De Lima held hostage, 1 cop hurt during incident at Camp Crame
Jailed former senator Leila de Lima was briefly taken hostage Sunday morning during an attempted breakout by three inmates who were shot dead by police, authorities said.
The inmates were reportedly members of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which has been accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.
The incident happened at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, where De Lima has been held for more than five years with other high-profile detainees.
One police officer, PCpl. Roger Agustin, was stabbed with an improvised knife as he was serving meals to the inmates, before another officer, Police Cpl. Pat Matias, shot dead two of the inmates, Idang Susukan and Arnel Cabintoy.
The third prisoner, Feliciano Sulayao Jr., ran to de Lima’s cell and briefly held the 63-year-old ex-lawmaker hostage before he was also shot dead.
The event happened from 6:30 a.m. to 7:18 a.m., police said in a statement PCol. Mark Pespes of the PNP Special Action Force responded to the scene as Sulayao held De Lima hostage, then the SAF Tactical Response Team “saw an opportunity and neutralized the hostage taker,” Police Lt. Col. Lucio Simangan said in the report.
Police Brig. Gen. Roderick Augustus Alba, the PNP spokesman, said DeLima was not hurt and that the situation inside the detention facility had “returned to normal.” An investigation was underway.
In the aftermath of the hostage taking, De Lima released a statement describing her ordeal.
After being told by Sulayao that since his two other companions were already dead, “he’s certain he would also be killed and he might just as well also kill me, I consider what happened to me as a near-death experience” if not for the timely intervention of the PNP security force, she said.
“Please also pray for the injured police officer (Agustin) who, like me, was the other but more unfortunate victim of this incident. While I have survived with only a knife mark and some considerable distress, he is still fighting for his life. Let us all pray for his quick recovery,” De Lima added.
PNP Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin told radio station dzBB that the senator did not appear to have been the target.
“They saw her as an ideal cover. Their intention really was to escape,” he said.
De Lima was unhurt, Boni Tacardon, her lawyer, confirmed. “She was brought to the hospital for the standard medical check-up. But based on the information given to us by our staff who’s with the senator now, she appears OK.”
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.
Mr. 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.”
According to Press Secretary officer-in-charge Cheloy Garafil, the President has directed Camp Crame to “enforce all measures necessary” to prevent acts of violence at the Custodial Center and other PNP detention centers.
Sen. Imee Marcos, the President’s sister, urged De Lima to have herself checked by her own physician, as well as to take the extended home furlough offered by the PNP and the Department of Justice since July.
“As former members of the Kabataang Barangay together, we are all deeply worried about her health and safety,” Marcos added.
Tacardon said De Lima was not aware of the offer for an extended home furlough but added her camp will confirm this by today.
In a press briefing hours after the event, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos stressed that the three suspects had no plan to hostage De Lima, and her involvement was merely incidental.
“The three suspects’ mission was really to escape,” said Abalos, who was directed by the President to talk with De Lima and ask her if she wanted to be transferred to a bigger detention facility.
But Abalos said De Lima “feels very safe at her present place, so she prefers to stay there.”
He instructed PNP Chief Azurin to review the existing protocols at the Custodial Center, particularly in the giving of meals, to prevent a similar incident.
“We have to improve protocols. This is an old building, so that it will not happen again,” Abalos said.
De Lima, an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war, is due to reappear 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.
The latest incident underscored the need for her to be “freed immediately”, said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III expressed alarm over the hostage incident and insisted on a full-scale security review.
Pimentel said they are worried about the safety of De Lima, who has been in detention for what her camp says are trumped-up drug charges by the Duterte administration.
The opposition senator said the PNP should come up with a detailed report on what happened and why this happened, considering that De Lima is held in a separate area away from other inmates.
“We are glad with the initial report that she is okay. The wheels of justice in this country must move quicker,” Pimentel said.
Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, who visited De Lima at the PNP in Camp Crame, called the hostage taking “barbaric, and despicable.”
“We demand an explanation and a thorough investigation of this violent incident from the PNP and the Department of Justice. We need answers,” she said.
She said those involved in this incident should be immediately identified and held liable.
“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?” Hontiveros said.
She called on the PNP to increase the security arrangements around De Lima and ensure that “no similar incident will ever occur against her or other detainees.”
The violence against former De Lima, she said, is only the latest act of injustice against her, noting that this would not happen to the ex-senator if she were not detained without basis.
Before her arrest on Feb. 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 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 country’s notoriously overcrowded jails.
Former senator Franklin Drilon said the incident was alarming and called for a full-scale security review.
“We call on the PNP to investigate it and find out whether the hostage taking of former Senator De Lima was planned,” she said.
Former senator Francis Pangilinan, also an ally of De Lima, called for a full accounting of the incident to ascertain if there was negligence on the part of the police.
He also renewed his call to the government to immediately resolve the cases against De Lima.
“De Lima should not be jailed. She should be set free because her being put behind bars was unjust,” he said.
On the other hand, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, PNP chief under the
Duterte administration, said the fact that the three prisoners failed to escape showed the PNP jail was secure.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson, also a former PNP chief, praised the swift response of the police to foil the escape and hostage taking, and said an impartial investigation must be conducted immediately.
Former Vice President Leni Robredo said she was praying for De Lima’s safety and release from detention.
The Commission on Human Rights on Sunday expressed grave concern over the incident.
“While initial information reaching CHR shares that Senator De Lima is now safe, it puts into serious question the safety of Senator De Lima, as well as other detainees in the detention facility,” the commission said in a statement.
The CHR recognized the swift action by the police personnel in addressing the hostage situation and said it hopes for the recovery of PCpl Roger Agustin, and another wounded detainee, Jonathan Carpio.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, said instead of giving De Lima the option to be transferred to another jail, President Marcos should set her free from “a five-year odious and solitary confinement on fabricated drug charges.”
“While well-meaning visitors were barred from greeting her on her birthday, the culpable laxity of her jailers has allowed an armed intruder to penetrate her cell and seize her hostage,” he added.