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Jailed Duterte critic held hostage during deadly breakout attempt

#Jailed #Duterte #critic #held #hostage #deadly #breakout #attempt

Jailed Philippine human rights campaigner Leila de Lima was briefly taken hostage Sunday during an attempted breakout by three detained militants who were shot dead by police, authorities said. 

The incident happened at the national police headquarters, where de Lima, a former senator, has been held for more than five years with other high-profile detainees.

A police officer handing out breakfast was stabbed with a fork by an inmate, who then freed two others from their cells.

Two of the prisoners were shot dead by a sniper, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos told reporters. 

The third prisoner ran to de Lima’s cell. He tied up and blindfolded the 63-year-old, before a police officer shot him in the head, Abalos said. 

Police said de Lima was safe and the situation inside the detention facility had “returned to normal”. An investigation was underway. 

Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin said the three inmates were members of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which has been accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.

De Lima did not appear to have been the target, Azurin told local radio station DZBB.

“They saw her as an ideal cover. Their intention really was to escape,” he said.

De Lima was unhurt, Boni Tacardon, her lawyer, confirmed to AFP.

“She was brought to the hospital for the standard medical check-up,” Tacardon said.

“But based on the information given to us by our staff who’s with the senator now, she appears OK.”

– Calls to free de Lima –

De Lima, an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war, is due to appear in court on Monday.

She has been behind bars since 2017 on drug trafficking charges that she and human rights groups have called a mockery of justice and payback for going after Duterte.

Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took power in June, there have been renewed calls from diplomats and rights defenders for de Lima to be released.

The latest incident underscored the need for her to be “freed immediately”, said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

Marcos tweeted that he would speak to de Lima “to check on her condition and to ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention center”.

But Tacardon said de Lima did not want to be transferred.

For now, de Lima and her defence team were considering their options, including the hospital inside the national police headquarters. 

Before her arrest on February 24, 2017, de Lima had spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor and in the early days of his presidency.

She conducted the probes while serving as the nation’s human rights commissioner, then from 2010 to 2015 as justice secretary in the Benigno Aquino administration that preceded Duterte’s rule.

De Lima won a Senate seat in 2016, becoming one of the few opposition voices as the populist Duterte enjoyed a landslide win.

But Duterte then accused her of running a drug trafficking ring with criminals inside the nation’s biggest prison while she was justice secretary.

De Lima lost her bid for re-election to the Senate in May and Duterte stepped down in June.

The lawyer and mother of two has been held in a compound for high-profile detainees, rather than one of the Philippines’ notoriously overcrowded jails.  

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