Leila de Lima

Inside Camp Crame and the courtroom: De Lima’s anxiety and joy

Lian Buan

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Inside Camp Crame and the courtroom: De Lima’s anxiety and joy

OUT ON BAIL. Former senator Leila de Lima waves to her supporters outside the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice after being granted bail on November 13, 2023.


(1st UPDATE) De Lima was emotional when she walked out the door, barely able to say the words, 'Finally I am free.' She stepped out at 7:04 pm after bail procedures at Camp Crame.

Former senator Leila de Lima got a little anxious Thursday morning, November 9, when her lawyer Teddy Rigoroso visited her inside the custodial center of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame, where she had been detained for six years and nine months since February 2017.

The sight of Rigoroso inside Camp Crame triggered her a little, and she asked him: “Is it bad news?” For the better part of her detention, De Lima was at peace, resigned to the thought that there was less likelihood of her being freed while former president Rodrigo Duterte was in power.

The Marcos administration provided a shift to a wait-and-see mindset for everyone, particularly for De Lima, who has had the support of foreign politicians, not least of them, from the United States – all attractive allies for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. out to rebrand the family legacy.

Grabe ang anxiety niya (Her anxiety was so high),” Rigoroso told Rappler Thursday evening, when the litigation team met to prepare for the hearing on Monday, November 13.

Monday’s hearing was one of managed hopes. A new judge, one of the last available judges in the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), was set to handle the motion for reconsideration on her petition for bail, denied last June by a different judge.

This judge, Gener Gito, had handed her small wins before. And the motion was ripe for resolution. The legal team, having gone through the waves and motions of perhaps the country’s most political trial in the last decade, was confident. “8 out of 10,” Rigoroso offered.

Pero sa dami ng dinaanan niya, kahit marami nang tsismis na favorable ang mangyayari sa Monday, the mere fact na dumating si [Atty Rigoroso] dun, na-trigger na naman,” said lawyer Jojo Garcia, her legal adviser and longtime friend.

(After all she’d been through, even though there had been many rumors that there would be a favorable decision on Monday, the mere arrival of Atty. Rigoroso triggered her again.)

Rigoroso was there for one reason: to beg De Lima to follow their lead on where to go, when to go, and how to go there – should she be released Monday. They were all concerned for her safety.

Sabi ko, Manay, hindi tayo naghirap nang ilang taon, lalo na ikaw, para lang maging tanga, at paglabas natin eh mababaril lang tayo,” said Rigoroso.

(I told her, friend, we did not suffer for many years, especially you, just to be careless now, just to be shot when we go out.)

HUDDLE. Leila De Lima’s lawyers meet for last-minute preparations on November 10, 2023. (L-R) Attorneys Boni Tacardon, Dino De Leon, Rolly Peoro, Ice Baguilat, Jojo Garcia, and Teddy Rigoroso.
Crame cats

Rigoroso had specific demands: that if she gets bail, they leave Camp Crame as fast as possible. The books can be gathered on a later day, the cats she had gotten attached to can be figured out later on.

De Lima had fallen in love with the cats loitering in the custodial center, and for some reason her lawyers were concerned the cats would delay her exit.

In her first press conference as a free woman Monday night, De Lima said, “I was so sad, I was almost crying when I left Camp Crame today because I left the cats there. The cats there had been my companion, they kept my sanity intact.”

Rigoroso said, “If the bail was not granted, nothing changes. If the bail was granted, it’s a security nightmare, because after the hostage, the custodial center revised a risk assessment that said she was at risk every time she attends a hearing.”

De Lima survived a hostage-taking incident inside her jail cell in October last year.

Human rights lawyer Tony La Viña, part of De Lima’s support group, said the former senator “never negotiated a political conclusion to her case, to be released on political reasons, either with Duterte and Marcos.”

“She took all the legal steps,” said La Viña.

On Sunday, November 12, the usual Mass was held inside Camp Crame. By that time, the mood had improved. “It was both moving and exciting,” said priest Flavie Villanueva.

Waiting for the decision

The fourth floor of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) was brimming with police around noon – and then came the usual cast of a mostly-women group of former Aquino Cabinet members and other civil society leaders. After observing hearings for almost seven years, the women already knew the court staff, and were even able to joke with the other co-accused.

But Monday’s courtroom was packed, representatives from the US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and European Union embassies were there, getting front row seats to what would be the pivotal day in De Lima’s life. La Viña said the prosecution, often in a large pack, sent only one representative on Monday. But still seats ran out.

De Lima’s friends gave way, settling in the seats outside the courtroom, as some pressed their ears to the glass door.

After a while, the court called for a recess, and De Lima’s lawyer Rolly Peoro updated the rest of the supporters and staff, telling them that the judge had committed to issue a decision on bail when they returned to session. That was the first confirmation that a bail decision was going to be handed. Monday’s hearing was supposedly just set to hear the motion to quash filed by De Lima’s co-accused, former corrections chief Franklin Bucayu.

The moment Peoro whispered his update, longtime staff of De Lima from when she was a senator turned visibly nervous. They all sneaked their bodies into the door. At one point, one of them heard the word “granted” but they were unsure because the room was still calm.

Minutes later, applause erupted. De Lima, seated next to constitutionalist and former Commission on Election chairman Christian Monsod, immediately bowed her head and exclaimed, “Freedom!”

Inside Camp Crame and the courtroom: De Lima’s anxiety and joy

The people in the packed courtroom clapped, as the likes of former peace adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles, civic leader Socorro Reyes, former Akbayan representative Walden Bello, and former human rights commissioner Karen Dumpit hugged her.

De Lima was emotional when she walked out the door, barely able to speak. Visibly overwhelmed, she told Rappler: “Finally I am free! Finally I am free, nandiyan kayo, hindi ‘nyo ako pinabayaan (you were there, you did not leave my side).”

Experts now in dealing with the media, lawyer Boni Tacardon took only seconds before a message could be sent to a Viber group of reporters: “bail granted.” Only minutes passed for word to travel outside the fourth floor, and supporters who stood in the rain outside the RTC shouted and screamed, their sound reaching De Lima.

De Lima regained composure when she was held at the court library as they processed her bail. That’s when she got to talk to her sister and her ailing mother on the phone.

“Our mother recognized her voice,” said her brother Vicboy de Lima.

When she got out of the building, which she hopes would be the last when she is heavily escorted by the police, De Lima said: “Sa inyo pong lahat na naniwala po sa akin, maraming, maraming salamat po. Hindi ‘nyo ako pinabayaan, ipinaglaban ‘nyo po ako dahil ipinaglalaban ko kayo palagi.”

(To all of you who believed in me, thank you so much. You did not leave me, you fought for me because I always fought for you.)

De Lima added: “Gusto ko pong pasalamatan si Judge Gener Gito at ang BBM [Bongbong Marcos] administration for respecting the independence of the judiciary.” (I want to thank Judge Gener Gito and the BBM administration for respecting the independence of the judiciary.)

De Lima walked out of Camp Crame a free woman, albeit on bail, at 7:04 pm Monday.

Adult, Male, Man
OUT. On November 13, 2023, former senator Leila de Lima waves as she walks out of the Philippine National Police custodial center in Camp Crame, after being granted bail following over six years of detention.

The team would most likely file a demurrer to evidence, which is a pleading filed by the defense to get the court to dismiss a case outright, without having to do a presentation of their own. It’s a pleading that defendants file when they are confident that the prosecution’s weakness is enough to junk the case.

“We have been fighting this case based on the merits. Right from the start, we know she was innocent,” said her lawyer Dino De Leon. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.