MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines on Friday (Feb 17) filed three drug-related charges against a senator and staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, saying she allegedly received money from drug dealers inside the country's prisons.
More than 7,700 people have been killed in the narcotics crackdown since Duterte took office on June 30, about 2,500 in police operations, while the rest are being investigated.
Human rights groups believe many other deaths that police attributed to vigilantes were carried out by assassins likely colluding with police. The government and police vehemently deny extrajudicial killings have taken place.
Senator Leila de Lima, her former driver, two bodyguards and a former national prison official face arrest next week once a court has issued arrest warrants, Justice Minister Vitaliano Aguirre told a news conference.
"These are non-bailable offences under the country's anti-drug laws," Aguirre said, adding that a guilty verdict would bring a penalty of life imprisonment. "These are not the product of politics, the cases were carefully studied."
According to information filed at the Muntinlupa trial court in the south of Manila, the capital, de Lima received 5 million pesos (S$141,500) delivered to her home when she was justice minister in the years 2010 to 2016.
She also allowed a convicted felon to run a drug trading business from inside national prisons, which police described as controlling about 70 per cent of large-scale sale and distribution in the Philippines, it added.
"The criminal charges and prosecution are nothing less than a politically motivated act," de Lima said, denying all the allegations, and vowing to fight a battle for human rights and democracy.
"This is the kind of vindictive politics that we only expect from this regime," she said in a statement, accusing Duterte of trying to "clamp down on any vocal opposition to a policy of extrajudicial killing".
Three weeks ago, Duterte halted all anti-drug operations by police, after a South Korean businessman was kidnapped and strangled to death inside the national police headquarters in October.
Aguirre said the justice ministry would refer another case against de Lima to the anti-graft body and investigate allegations that she received about 8 million pesos from a known drug dealer in 2015 for her senatorial election campaign.
De Lima has also denied this allegation, saying she did not receive the money.
The drug-related cases she faces were based on the testimony of convicted felons and former prison officials during a congressional inquiry on drug trade in national prisons.