MANILA, Philippines – A day after President Rodrigo Duterte's scathing attacks against her, Senator Leila De Lima hit the Chief Executive for "abusing and misusing" executive power.
An emotional De Lima faced reporters on Thursday, August 18, but she made sure she got this message across: she would not be intimidated.
She hit Duterte for his acts unbecoming of a president when he attacked her during a Philippine National Police event in Camp Crame.
"This is no less than abuse and misuse of executive power. I don't think the Constitution has ever contemplated such abuse of power on such scale, as it assumes every President to conduct himself in a manner befitting the office he holds. It seems that this is not the case for this President," De Lima said.
She called on Duterte to "stop portraying her as the enemy," and to end his threats and public shaming.
"Tama na po ang pananakot at panghihiya. Bumalik na po tayo sa kaayusan na dulot ng pag-iiral ng batas at simpleng respeto sa kapwa tao," she said.
(Please stop the threats and the shaming. Let's return to order under the rule of law and simple respect for others.)
The senator lamented how someone as high as the President could attack her, who is "just a senator," she said. De Lima said she is left with no recourse, as her attacker – the President – is immune from any charges while in office.
"How does one defend oneself, when the attacker is immune from suit, and has all the backing of executive power to support him in his personal attack?" she said.
De Lima said she only wants a "fair fight," especially as she is up against no less than the most powerful official in the land.
"Kahit iyon lang po sana ay ibigay ninyo sa akin, ang pagkakataon na ipagtanggol ang aking sarili, lalo na po sa isang kalagayan na ang Pangulo na ng bansa ang nagdeklara na siya ang aking kalaban at personal na nag-aakusa sa akin," she said.
(Just give me the chance to defend myself, especially as it is the President of the country who has declared that he is my enemy and has personally accused me.)
"Pangulo po kayo. Senador lamang po ako. Patas na laban lamang po ang aking hinihingi. Sana ay ibigay ninyo sa akin ang ibinigay na rin naman ng batas at Konstitusyon sa kahit na kaninong na-aakusahan sa ilalim ng ating sistemang pang-legal," she added.
(You are the President. I am just a senator. I am only asking for a fair fight. I hope you would give me what the law and the Constitution provide an accused person under our legal system.)
In a warning of sorts, De Lima said what was done – and would be done – to her would surely be done to anyone who wishes to oppose Duterte.
"I think it is already clear that what is being done to me is what will happen to anyone who does not bow to the wishes of the President," she said.
De Lima refused to entertain questions after the statement, saying. "Not now. I am hurting a lot."
Expecting more attacks
Despite this, De Lima maintained she would not back down from the Senate investigation into the recent spate of drug-related killings – the main issue that caught Duterte's ire.
De Lima, however, admitted she already thought of stopping the probe in exchange for a "quiet" life. But she cannot just abandon her role as a public servant, she said.
"Kagalang-galang na Pangulo, Your Excellency, naisip ko na rin po itigil ang imbestigasyon sa mga summary executions kung iyon ang gusto n'yo para lamang matigil ang mga personal na atake sa akin. Sumagi na rin po sa isipan ko na itigil ang imbestigasyon kapalit ng katahimikan sa aking buhay," De Lima said.
(Honorable President, Your Excellency, I also thought of not going on with the investigation on the summary executions, if that is what you want, just to stop the personal attacks against me. That also crossed my mind – to stop the investigation in exchange for a peaceful existence.)
"Pero kapag ginawa ko po ito ay parang tinalikuran ko na rin ang sarili kong pagkatao, at itinatwa ang sarili kong paninindigan at paniniwala. Hindi na po ako ang tatayong kinatawan ng bayan sa Senado. Isang huwad na anyo ko na lamang ang tatayo doon. Para ko na rin pong binaon ang aking sariling pagkatao," she said.
(But if I do this, it would be like turning against my very nature, and my convictions and beliefs. I would no longer be the country's representative in the Senate. A false image would take my place there. It would be like burying my own person.)
The senator said she would rather that she – not Duterte – causes her downfall.
De Lima revealed she has long been hearing about Duterte's plans to destroy her. She, however, did not expect that the President himself would be a "victim" of his own propaganda and social media operations.
"Hindi ko na lang pinansin ang mga ito. Buong akala ko na hindi kayo mismo ang magiging biktima ng sarili ninyong propaganda at social media operations," she said.
(I ignored all these. I really thought you would not fall victim to your own propaganda and social media operations.)
"Sana po ay hindi pa sarado ang inyong isip na pakinggan muna ang aking panig, bago ninyo ipagpatuloy ang paninira sa aking pagkatao sa harap ng publiko at taumbayan," she maintained.
(I hope your mind is not closed yet, and you would hear my side, before you continue to destroy my person in public and in the eyes of the people.)
De Lima said she would just wait for cases to be filed against her before she answers the allegations.
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 email@example.com