De Lima: ‘Lone’ voice amplified by churches, schools

Patty Pasion
De Lima: ‘Lone’ voice amplified by churches, schools
The support that she cannot muster in the Senate and in political institutions, Senator Leila de Lima finds in forums on human rights and democracy organized by churches and schools

MANILA, Philippines – Hers may be a long and lonely battle, but Senator Leila de Lima – the most vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his stance on extrajudicial killings – has found refuge in the halls of churches and schools.

Such is a welcome development for the senator, who has been the subject of attacks from no less than the President and his men. In the Senate, she has only a few allies, as shown by her “unprecedented” ouster as chairperson of the committee on justice and human rights, which had led the probe into the extrajudicial killings under Duterte. (READ: Senators: De Lima ousted for being ‘biased,’ anti-Duterte)

Most senators have either thrown their support behind the President’s anti-illegal drug campaign or have kept quiet about the issue.

But in front of advocates, students, and religious leaders, De Lima gets what she wants – the support and, possibly admiration, of people. To their eyes, De Lima is not the media-savvy, dramatic, or guilty politician that critics say she is. To them, she is the lone voice that represents them.

The past week has seen De Lima hopping from one human rights or democracy forum to another.

On Wednesday, October 5, she attended the 1st Buhay at Babae forum, sponsored by women’s groups, at the Commission on Human Rights. They were among her partners in investigating alleged summary killings.

On Thursday, October 6, she was the guest speaker at a democracy and human rights dialogue at St Scholastica’s College in Manila.

There, the senator lamented how the issues against her seemed to have convince people that she was indeed a drug coddler. She claimed it was part of the administration’s ploy to distract the public from the more pressing issue of extrajudicial killings.

The school has thrown its support behind the senator: “We raise our voice against a creeping culture of death and impunity, harassment, and shaming against persons who dare to question statements, actuations, and actions of current powers-that-be.”

On Friday, October 7, she attended a similar forum at the Adamson University, and on Saturday, a “mass for justice and truth” was held for her and victims of injustice at the La Salle Greenhills.

In the coming days, the senator’s office said De Lima has at least 3 more schools to visit.

‘Let us be defiant’

De Lima said she was once resigned to the idea that no one was with her in this fight. That view changed when several groups approached her. 

Now, with her newfound allies, De Lima is keen on reaching out to more “like-minded” people.

“Our role now is to reach out and connect with like-minded people, young and old, to say that they are not alone, that they should start reaching out to each other, and that we should hold fast together and be brave in the face of this terrible threat to our democracy and humanity,” De Lima told Rappler.

In her speeches, the senator has urged the public to unite and defend democracy – something that she could not afford to do inside political institutions. (READ: De Lima on Duterte: I will ‘resist’ until ‘last pulse in my veins’)

“Organize among yourselves, even in small groups. Let ourselves be the building blocks of the defense of our democracy. Let us be defiant in the face of impunity,” she said in a text message.

“As it has been throughout history, the answer to dark ages is enlightenment and the collective action of men and women of goodwill. In the end, truth, justice, and right will always defeat lies, impunity, and evil,” De Lima added.

Asked about finding new allies, the senator said it gave her the energy to continue the fight.

So akala ko po mag-isa lang ako. Akala ko lungkot na lungkot ako. (I thought I’m alone. I’m really sad.) I was already frustrated. I was having some emotional upheaval already within me, and I was so enraged. Until nakita ko nga ho ‘yung mga suporta (Until I saw the support for me), said De Lima in a separate interview.

De Lima and Duterte had long been at odds over the issue of human rights. De Lima, as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2009, launched a probe into the alleged role of then Davao City Mayor Duterte in the vigilante group Davao Death Squad. It continued when she became justice secretary of the Aquino administration.

Recently, she drew the ire of Duterte anew for leading an investigation – barely a month into office – into the spate of extrajudicial killings under his administration. (READ: De Lima witness: Duterte ‘ordered’ killings in Davao)

Aside from unrelenting attacks from the President, De Lima is facing two ethics complaints and an electoral protest seeking her removal as senator.

The Department of Justice is also preparing possible criminal and administrative charges against her for her alleged links to the proliferation of illegal drugs in the national penitentiary – the same topic of a House probe against her. –


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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.