MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Liberal International (LI) on Saturday, July 28, officially conferred on opposition senator Leila de Lima the prestigious Prize for Freedom award, with her family receiving the honor on her behalf.
“Human rights are for all, or they are for nothing. The world is indeed watching, and Leila de Lima’s unjust detention will not be forgotten…. Senator Leila de Lima, you have received this prize for speaking truth to power,” LI president Juli Minoves said during ceremonies held at the Novotel hotel in Quezon City on Saturday night.
Minoves said this is the first time in almost a decade that the Prize for Freedom is being awarded outside of Europe.
“In doing so, we are here to recognize the sacrifice of this remarkable prisoner of conscience,” he added.
The senator’s eldest son Israel Bohol, her siblings Vicente de Lima II and Caroline de Lima, and aunt Lilia de Lima received the award.
“Inasmuch as I personally want to grace the awarding ceremony to receive this prestigious Human Rights Prize, such is impossible because of my continued unjust detention under Duterte’s murderous regime. But I am happy that my son and siblings will be there to represent me,” De Lima said in a statement sent to media.
On Saturday, De Lima’s brother read her speech on her behalf: “I am extremely and unconditionally blessed, so much so that there is no room in my heart for regrets or second thoughts. No room for could haves, would haves, or should haves. I am where I am because I did the right thing.”
Later in her speech, De Lima said that while dictators, oppressors, and abusers come and go, “we, the defenders of the people, can never rest.”
“Even if we have to start from teaching a whole new generation something so basic and simple that human life and human rights are not opposites. That there is no dichotomy between the two. That one cannot be defended by trading it off with the other. That one cannot claim to fight for human lives, while their hands are stained red with the blood of their victims. That anyone who suggests otherwise is no better than a wolf that pretends to be a shepherd, and delivers the flock to slaughter.”
Aside from De Lima’s family, some of her party mates from the Liberal Party were also present on Saturday, including LP president and senator Francis Pangilinan, Vice President Leni Robredo, and former president Benigno Aquino III.
According to LI, a London-based world federation of liberal and progressive democratic parties, De Lima was conferred the award for her “exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights” in the Philippines.
De Lima is the second Filipino to accept the recognition after former president Corazon Aquino, who was recognized in 1987 “for her world-renowned advocacy of democracy, peace, and the empowerment of women.”
De Lima, the fiercest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody anti-drug campaign, is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame over drug charges she claims were fabricated.
The Supreme Court earlier ruled against De Lima’s petition to nullify her arrest warrant on questions of case jurisdiction, thereby keeping her in jail. (READ: De Lima: One year of living and surviving in jail)
In November 2017, global politicians voted to grant the award to De Lima during the 199th Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, where at least 100 liberals from 32 countries were registered to participate.
According to LI, the Prize for Freedom is awarded to “a well-known personality of liberal conviction who has made outstanding efforts for the defense of freedom and human rights.”
Previous recipients include the imprisoned Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi (2016), Helen Suzman (2002), and Martin Lee (1996). The award was first given in 1986.
‘Beacon of hope’
Various groups and colleagues from the opposition congratulated the senator for receiving the award.
“It is such a joy that Senator De Lima, while persecuted at home is celebrated internationally…. She is the beacon of hope in a country that is plunged into darkness by the politics of revenge and the insatiable lust for power of its political leaders. She remains steadfast in her commitment to freedom and democracy,” the group EveryWoman said in a statement.
“In the face of massive extrajudicial killing, the character assassination against her person, and an impending imprisonment based from the statement of Duterte upon his assumption in office, it did not deter her from voicing out against the policies of [Duterte],” said the group Libertarian Advocates for Philippine Progress, Incorporated.
“More than an individual award, it is a victory for the Filipino people who have inspired and been inspired by Senator De Lima’s staunch defense of human rights and especially the most basic right to live…. Senator De Lima today embodies what is the best of us,” the Tindig Pilipinas coalition said.
“In her fight to uphold the rights of every Filipino, she talked truth to power and paid with her freedom. Even from behind bars, she continues to share her voice to defend justice, democracy, and the Filipino people,” said opposition senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.
Malacañang, however, said De Lima’s Prize for Freedom “cannot distract our people from the real issue.”
“Senator De Lima, we reiterate, is no prisoner of conscience. There is now a case against her before our local court and as a respect to her right to due process, all legal processes are proceeding accordingly,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement on Sunday, July 29.
While in detention, De Lima has also received other recognitions, including the 2016 and 2017 Global Thinker Award by Foreign Policy, one of the Top Most Influential People for 2017 by Time magazine, one of the notable Women Human Rights Defenders for 2017 by Amnesty International, and 39th World’s Greatest Leader by Fortune magazine, among others. – Rappler.com