Philippine Senator Leila De Lima (R) gestures as she speaks to colleague Senator Ralph Recto during a senate session in Manila on February 20, 2017. The Philippine government on February 17 filed criminal charges against de Lima, alleging she ran a drug trafficking ring using criminals in the country's largest prison when she was justice secretary. De Lima said in a statement that the charges, which could land her a 30-year jail term, were solely aimed at silencing her criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is a “serial killer” who should be forced out of office, one of his chief critics said Tuesday, as she faced arrest on drug charges she insisted were meant to silence her.
Senator Leila de Lima invoked a famous “People Power” revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago, in her strongest comments yet against Duterte and his drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.
“There is no more doubt that our president is a murderer and sociopathic serial killer,” De Lima told reporters, as she called on cabinet to declare him unfit to lead, and asked ordinary Filipinos to voice their opposition to his rule.
De Lima said the constitution allowed for a majority in his cabinet to force him to step down by ruling that he was mentally incapacitated, and urged it to do so.
If the cabinet members did not, De Lima referred to the mass uprising that ended the “iron fist” of Marcos’s dictatorship in 1986.
“Now the time has come again for us to be brave and stand up to another criminal dictator and his evil regime,” De Lima said.
The government last week charged De Lima, a former national human rights commissioner, with orchestrating a drug trafficking ring when she was justice secretary in the previous administration.
De Lima, 57, her supporters and rights groups have said the charges against her are manufactured to silence her as well as intimidate other people who may want to speak out against him.
She could be detained anytime, although the courts hearing the cases must issue an arrest warrant.
When asked about De Lima’s comments, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella simply described them as “colourful language” and pointed out that Duterte would allow public demonstrations against him.
Duterte, 71, won presidential elections last year after promising during the campaign to eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people.
He immediately launched the crackdown after taking office in June and police have reported killing 2,555 drug suspects since then, with about 4,000 other people murdered in unexplained circumstances.
Amnesty International has warned police actions in the drug war may amount to crimes against humanity.
The powerful Roman Catholic Church, which helped lead the People Power revolution, has in recent months begun speaking out against the drug war and on Saturday held a rally against the killings, attracting thousands of people.
But Duterte remains popular with many Filipinos, who see him as the strongman needed to fight drugs and corruption, and there is little expectation of a popular uprising against him in the near future.