MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It's character assassination.
A teary-eyed Senator Leila De Lima on Wednesday, August 17, faced reporters barely an hour after President Rodrigo Duterte attacked her in his speech before the Philippine National Police and their guests in Camp Crame. (READ: Duterte attacks ‘politicking, posturing’ De Lima)
De Lima openly answered reporters’ questions even as she was visibly trying to hold back her tears.
"May nagsabi na sa akin, ngayon lang (Somebody told me just now). It's very surprising. Alam mo first reaction ko ngayon, ayoko na patulan 'yan (You know, my first reaction is not to dignify it). It's so foul. It's character assassination," said De Lima.
Duterte did not mention her name even once in his speech but undoubtedly referred to the senator because of some obvious hints that could only apply to her. The two have been at odds over the issue of human rights long before Duterte became Chief Executive.
Later in a press conference, Duterte was asked about the female official he was referring to. "Do you want to know the name? De Lima," Duterte said. (READ: Duterte: It's my duty to name De Lima)
For De Lima, the President's timing is bad and his agenda questionable.
"Very bad timing. I don't know kung ano po agenda nila na (what else is their agenda that) they're resorting to character assassination. That is a very clear case of character assassination. I did not expect the President to do that. Sa totoo lang (In all honesty)," she said.
Duterte's attack came two weeks after he defended De Lima from critics of her call to hold a Senate probe into extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs. Back then, the President said De Lima was only doing her job as a senator.
But over a week later, Duterte alluded to a female government official who, he said, he would destroy in public.
On Wednesday afternoon, Duterte – without directly naming De Lima but obviously referring to her – chastised a "senator" for "complaining" about the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.
The President turned personal against the senator, calling her "immoral" and accusing her of having a "driver and lover" who accepted money from "Muntinlupa," referring to money from drug lords at the National Bilibid Prisons. He also said that the senator had investigated him "for human rights violations."
De Lima had served as Commission on Human Rights chairperson and as justice secretary.
Not backing down
Despite the attacks, De Lima said she would not back down from the Senate probe into the recent spate of drug-related killings linked to Duterte's fight against criminality.
"Hindi po. 'Di po ako matitinag (No, Sir. I will not be swayed)," said the senator, who chairs the Senate committee on human rights.
De Lima said Duterte should have vetted the information given him. She, however, neither denied nor answered the accusations, saying she does not want to "dignify them."
"Pareho naman po kaming propesyonal, pareho rin po kaming public servant so sana 'di na ho siya nagreresort sa ganyan sa mga foul means. To me that's very foul. Saan man nanggaling 'yang impormasyon na 'yan sana dinouble check. Sana inaalam ang source. That’s really foul. Ayaw ko talaga i-dignify 'yan," De Lima said.
(We are both professionals, we are both public servants so I hope he would not resort to those foul means. To me, that's very foul. He should have double checked the source of the information. He should have determined the source. That's really foul. I don't want to dignify that.)
De Lima is set to lead the Senate probe into summary killings on August 22 and 23. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org