FORMER Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s fiercest critics, was taken hostage by one of three inmates who tried to escape jail near the Philippine capital on Sunday morning, police said.
Responding Special Action Forces shot and killed the inmates, who were suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, after negotiations failed, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said in a statement.
A police officer was rushed to the hospital after being stabbed during the escape attempt. Another cop on duty shot two of the culprits, while the third one entered Ms. De Lima’s cell inside the Camp Crame police headquarters in Quezon City and held her hostage.
Ms. De Lima was safe, police said. Her lawyer and spokesman, Filibon F. Tacardon, in a Viber message she was not hurt.
The PNP also said tension in the detention facility had been defused, while investigation of the incident was ongoing. Ms. De Lima was undergoing medical checkup at a nearby hospital.
“Following this morning’s incident at Camp Crame, I will be speaking to Senator De Lima to check on her condition and to ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention center,” Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. tweeted.
Human Rights Watch in a statement urged the government to release Ms. De Lima, who is on trial for alleged drug trafficking.
“De Lima has been held hostage by the Philippine government for the past five years for her views and human rights advocacy,” the global rights watchdog tweeted. “She should be released from police detention immediately.”
In 2016, Ms. De Lima led a Senate probe into vigilante-style killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was still mayor and vice mayor of the city. She was arrested a year later after allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Other senators also expressed concern for Ms. De Lima.
Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” L. Pimentel III said police should come up with a detailed report on what happened and how this happened since the former senator was in a separate area away from other inmates.
“We are glad with the initial report that she is OK,” he said in a statement. “The wheels of justice in this country must move quicker.”
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel called the incident “unjust, barbaric and despicable,” demanding an explanation and investigation by police and the Justice department. “We need answers.”
“How can armed detainees easily gain access to the custodial cell of Senator Leila which is deep inside the PNP national headquarters? What lapses in security must be addressed, and most of all, who is responsible for these lapses? We strongly deplore this breach of duty,” she told reporters in a Viber group message.
“I urge the PNP to increase the security arrangements around former Senator De Lima, and ensure that no similar incident will ever occur against her or other detainees,” she added.
“Now more than ever, we call for the immediate release of former Senator Leila from her unjust detention and the dropping of the trumped-up charges against her,” she said.
Former Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr., a former national police chief, also sought an investigation of the hostage-taking incident.
“While we are extremely thankful that Senator De Lima is unharmed, we are alarmed that this incident can happen right inside the maximum security custodial center within the PNP national headquarters,” former Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan said in a separate statement.
“We seek a full accounting of the incident and find out if there was negligence,” he said. “Former Senator De Lima does not belong in prison, is being unjustly detained and must be released.”
Also on Sunday, Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said asked her peers to support the passage of a resolution calling on the Justice department to withdraw the charges against the former lawmakers.
“With the recent foiled hostage-taking victimizing former Senator Leila de Lima, it is urgent that she be freed immediately or at least be granted bail,” she said in a statement. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Kyanna Angela Bulan