Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s most vocal opponent was removed on Monday from the helm of a Senate panel investigating his vicious war on drugs, in a sign that critics of the more than 3,000 killings that have taken place since he took office are being sidelined.
Senator Leila de Lima — who initiated the probe into Duterte’s savage campaign to kill drug users and drug dealers with little if any due process — was voted out of the chair of the Senate’s Justice and Human-Rights Committee by her fellow members, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
A motion to dissolve the committee and install a new leader — initiated by Senator and former champion boxer Manny Pacquiao — saw 16 votes against de Lima and four in favor, with two abstentions.
Her ouster comes as the committee was due to hear a statement from Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hit man who testified last week that Duterte ordered death squad killings — some of which Duterte allegedly carried out personally — during his 22 years as mayor of Davao City in the country’s South.
De Lima will continue to serve on the committee, but will be replaced as its chair by Senator Richard Gordon — who recently called for Philippine law enforcement to be allowed to make arrests without warrants.
She has faced an intense backlash from Duterte supporters, who have vilified her as “a coddler and a protector,” in her words, of the country’s drug syndicates. Duterte himself has launched a smear campaign against her, attempting to convince Filipinos that de Lima is in the pay of drug gangs and that she has had “sex escapades” (his words) with her driver.
Duterte said on Sunday that he needs “six more months” for his antidrug campaign, reportedly adding that he “can’t kill them all.” He has previously said that his brutal war will last until the last day of his six-year presidency.