MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The senator who initiated an investigation into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly anti-drug campaign asked the Supreme Court on Monday to stop verbal attacks against her by Duterte, who has described her as a "dirty woman" for allegedly having an affair with her driver.
Sen. Leila de Lima, who has been linked by Duterte to the illegal drug trade, said the petition she filed seeks to stop the president and his men from gathering information about her private life and disclosing it publicly. The petition is a test case because it challenges the president's immunity from lawsuits.
"I am here to exorcise my demon," de Lima said at a news conference with her lawyers and supporters. "(Duterte) wears a crown and sits on a throne now, but that should not shield him from being held responsible for launching a personal vendetta against one of his own citizens."
Backing up her petition, de Lima said she submitted to the court a CD containing video and audio recordings of Duterte's verbal attacks against her, including a public speech in which the president remarked that he has evidence against the senator and told her she "better hang" herself.
Duterte suggested in the speech that since watching an alleged video of de Lima in a romantic moment with her driver, "I lost my appetite."
Women's groups have hit Duterte for bullying de Lima with such attacks.
Duterte's spokesman said the senator was portraying herself as a victim and using her gender to divert attention from illegal drug allegations against her.
De Lima "is apparently playing the gender card as a shield against mounting evidence of her ties with high-profile drug lords," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said, adding that her court petition "is calculated to generate media noise to drown out the accusations against her."
As a chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights years ago, de Lima investigated Duterte, then the mayor of the southern city of Davao, for his links to the illegal killings of drug suspects through motorcycle-riding assassins called the Davao death squads, earning his wrath.
This year, de Lima said Duterte's verbal tirades against her escalated after she initiated a Senate committee investigation into the spate of killings under the president's brutal crackdown against drugs, which has left more than 3,600 drug suspects dead, including in gunbattles with police.
Duterte and his political backers have said the investigation has have not produced any convincing evidence of his criminal complicity. Suspicions, however, that police enforcing Duterte's crackdown have carried out extrajudicial killings have persisted due to highly suspicious deaths.
A town mayor detained for illegal drugs and gun possession charges was killed in a purported gunbattle in his jail cell Saturday by policemen, who came before dawn with a warrant to search the detention center in central Leyte province for guns and drugs.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, has called for an investigation, saying he suspected the mayor, Rolando Espinosa Sr., was killed illegally to prevent him from implicating other officials to illegal drugs.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.