Top Philippine senator accused of trafficking underage girls

The U.S. Justice Department has made public the indictment of a top aide to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on charges of sex trafficking and sex acts committed against minors, according to a report by local media on Friday. The action targets Sen. Leila de Lima, a powerful critic of the president who had been granted amnesty by Duterte last year for participating in a failed 2007 congressional impeachment investigation on him. The suit alleges that de Lima, 68, agreed to escort female constituents who were being exploited and that she then took on a “coercive role” in order to get them to pay off their traffickers, according to the Nation.

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In a statement issued Thursday evening, the U.S. attorney general’s office asserted that de Lima’s actions were “confrontational” and constituted “a breach of her congressional obligations.” U.S. authorities have also charged a Chinese man, Hong Pao, an attorney and board member of de Lima’s supporters group, with sexual exploitation of minors and forced labor for his alleged work in the group, which is known as the Partido ng Manggagawa (People’s Party). According to the Nation, Pao and de Lima had been cooperating together in efforts to investigate the sex-trafficking ring, which the senator had called “shameful.”

The president is responsible for changes to the Philippines constitution that allows him to appoint judges and serve up to two consecutive terms in office. In an interview last year with The Atlantic, de Lima had said that “a lot of shady men” were serving in his administration, adding that “the police and military have conspired with the president.” The Philippines’ judiciary has been critically criticized for its willingness to take down Marcos, as well as have a prominent role in ignoring the crimes of Duterte. Last year, General Teresito “Tres” Locsin, the commander of the armed forces, blamed the ongoing drug war for the “witch hunt” against de Lima, whose village in the country’s central island of Leyte had been razed by the military in 2009. Locsin later resigned from his post, amid allegations that he interfered in the murder case against Filipino singer Celina Laguerre. In May, the Senate impeached Dosal for the affair. Locsin later told CNN that Dosal had refused to carry out orders by the Duterte administration and he was forced to resign for “the will of God.”

De Lima was not available for comment on Friday. Duterte has previously described her as a “political victim” and stated that she could face execution if she returned to the Philippines from the United States.

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