The lawyers for jailed Philippine human rights activist Leila de Lima vowed to win her freedom after a judge who recently denied her bail quit the trial on Friday.
De Lima, one of the most outspoken critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly anti-drug war, has been in prison for more than six years on narcotics-related charges.
She says the three charges — two of which have been dismissed — were fabricated to silence her.
Romeo Buenaventura, the judge in the trial over the remaining charge, stepped down on Friday, saying his decisions in the case are “vulnerable to charges of bias and partiality”, according to a copy of the ruling seen by AFP.
The case will now be assigned to a new court that de Lima’s lawyers said will hopefully grant bail, which Buenaventura had denied on 7 June.
De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon told AFP that the campaigner is “steadfast in her resolve that her vindication is near”.
Buenaventura faced calls from de Lima and other defendants to recuse himself on the grounds that he had failed to disclose that his brother had served as a lawyer for a prosecution witness who had since recanted his testimony.
The judge has rejected allegations of bias.
De Lima, 63, is accused of taking money from inmates inside the largest prison in the Philippines to allow them to sell drugs while she was the justice minister from 2010 to 2015.
Multiple witnesses, including prison gang bosses, died or recanted their testimonies, resulting in the dismissal of two charges against de Lima.
The mother of two still faces life in prison if she is convicted on the remaining charge.
Since President Ferdinand Marcos came into office in June last year, there have been renewed calls from human rights groups, foreign diplomats and politicians for de Lima’s release.
While in jail, she suffered various health problems including one that required surgery.
In October 2022, she was briefly taken hostage during an attempted breakout by three detained Islamist militants.
Before her arrest in February 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.