De Lima says no regrets in love, no fear of death

Camille Elemia
De Lima says no regrets in love, no fear of death


'I fell in love. I fell out of love. We were happy for a time,' says Senator Leila de Lima about Ronnie Dayan, her former lover turned accuser

MANILA, Philippines – She fell in love, she fell out of love. She is in jail, but she won’t be silenced.

Her only wish now is vindication.

Senator Leila de Lima, the most prominent prisoner of the Duterte administration, said her time in jail – for alleged involvement in illegal drugs – has only strengthened her, so that not even death scares her now. “Because of the deepening of my faith now, I’ve imbibed a ‘thy will be done’ mindset. If the Lord wills it, I would wholeheartedly accept it.” (READ: De Lima: One year of living and surviving in jail

It’s been “a wonderful and most fulfilling life,” after all, she said. “My only wish is to be able to attain vindication before my time on Earth is up.”

“I want my children, grandchildren to hold their heads high ‘pag dumating ‘yung time na ‘yun (when that time comes), that they’ll be proud of what their mother or grandmother did and stood for,” she told Rappler in a recent interview in her detention center at Camp Crame.

As to her former lover who turned against her, De Lima said she harbors no ill feelings. 

All’s fair in love?

“No regrets. It happened. I fell in love. I fell out of love,” De Lima told Rappler. “We were happy for a time.”

The senator is referring to her love affair with her former driver and bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, which was used by the Duterte administration to pin her down.

A former lover turned accuser, Dayan alleged in a congressional hearing in 2016 that he collected drug money  for her. De Lima does not only deny that, she also shows no bitterness at all toward Dayan.  “Discreet naman kami noon. Sila lang ang nag-i-issue niyan (We were discreet then. They’re just the ones making an issue out of it),” the former justice chief said of her past relationship Dayan, as she slammed the misogyny of Duterte and his allies.

In 2016, the senator said their relationship lasted “a few years” and was part of her “frailties as a woman.” She also said Dayan was long separated with his wife when they started dating.

How did she come to terms Dayan’s testimony against her? De Lima shared a few quotes on love to drive home the point. 

  • “Love is not a because it’s a no matter what.” – Jodi Picoult
  • “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” – Blaise Pascal
  • “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” – Paulo Coelho

It’s really her nature. She said she has always been on good terms with men in her life, including her former husband, lawyer Plaridel Bohol.

When Dayan was in hiding, the two kept in touch. The senator then advised Dayan against appearing before the House of Representatives. It then became the subject of several complaints against her before the Senate and the court.

The feisty lawyer admitted she’s “tamer” after a year in jail, “more restrained” and less of a perfectionist, realizing she does not have to respond to every single issue. “I am now less judgmental. Dati lahat gusto kong pakialaman (I wanted to get involved in everything before), hit the negative side of things. Now, I tend to be discerning and careful about readily judging certain matters,” she said.

“I’ve learned to accept things as they are and that the world we live in is far from perfect. Everybody has faults,” she said.

Family’s satefy

While she fears nothing as she continues to criticize President Rodrigo Duterte, the senator said she is scared for her family’s safety, especially her two sons and grandchildren.

“I keep worrying. Every fiber in my being is worried because of my family. I’m practically helpless, I have no resources. Isinasa-Diyos ko na lang (I just leave everything up to the Lord). I just pray that they be spared from all the hate of the President,” said De Lima, who has repeatedly accused Duterte of being a murderer.

While she is angry at the President, she said she prays for him at times in the hopes that he would be “struck with conscience.” She conceded early on that as long as Duterte or his men are in power, she has “no hope of being free.” (READ: De Lima in jail: ‘I never imagined Duterte would be this vindictive’)

“Of course I’m mad at him because of what he did to me. It’s too much. I don’t deserve this. He knows this is not true,” De Lima said.

“I pray for him once in a while that he would be enlightened about the viciousness of the things he has done to me….I actually pity him because of what he has become – full of hate,” she said.

The senator also maintained that her case is different from that of a former president she put to jail, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga Representative. As justice secretary under the previous Aquino regime, De Lima defied a Supreme Court (SC) order that sought to stop her from arresting Arroyo.

She said it’s not fair to compare her case to other jailed politicians as well as to Arroyo, who had been acquitted and set free by the High Court. “I am convinced there is a corruption issue and when PNoy administration filed cases, we stopped her from leaving. It was never persecutorial, not persecution,’ De Lima claimed.

“Did you even hear us demean her? Did we use the entire government machinery? Walang ganoon (There was nothing like that) before. There were no below-the-belt attacks like what this administration is doing. Did we do that vis-à-vis Bong Revilla, JPE?” she said, referring to the plunder charges against former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla.

Some camps dispute this. (READ: De Lima’s fate: Karma or political persecution?)

NO REGRETS. Senator Leila de Lima is seen in this photo walking past her former bodyguard and boyfriend Ronnie Dayan (lower right) at a Senate hearing. File photo

On friendship, politics

It is also true what they say about tough times revealing your true friends.

De Lima said this very much applies to her, citing the case of Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, her fraternity brother, friend, and the godfather of her eldest son Israel.

Umali chairs the House justice committee that probed De Lima and publicized her relationships and even a supposed sex video, which women groups said was tantamount to slut-shaming

Umali, together with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, filed a disobedience case against De Lima. Fariñas and Alvarez withdrew themselves as witnesses but Umali still pushed through with it, she said. (READ: Umali: De Lima’s disobedience case meant to restore respect to House)

“He could have just inhibited. It would have been easy to tell the two that he would inhibit because we have a personal relationship. Or if not, he should not have allowed slut-shaming in his committee,” she said.

Two Duterte allies were also clients and friends  of De Lima – Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Pimentel once visited De Lima in jail, when international lawmakers came to the country. Other than that, there was nothing else, she said.

De Lima knows this is par for the course.

Just before her father, former Commission on Elections commissioner Vicente de Lima, died in 2012, he warned her daughter against joining politics. He probably knew then that her daughter – fierce, unrelenting – could get into trouble in a world that favors the pliant and the practical.

“Since he was about to die at that time, isa ‘yan sa sinabi niya sa akin (that was one of the things he told me). If you still want to be of service after DOJ (Department of Justice), certainly go ahead. But if want to do so, hindi ka bagay diyan (you’re not suited there). Now I know why my father dissuaded me,” De Lima said.

To her, however, there are still non-negotiable issues where she can never be tamed, such as extrajudicial killings and women’s rights.

Another constant, she said, is hope. (READ: [OPINION] Lesson from prison: How political persecution keeps the ideals of democracy alive)

“It’s just hope. Realistically, it seems quite remote. Nothing less than a miracle would free me….If I lose hope, that’s the end of it. I better just fade into the blue.” –

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Camille Elemia

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