2022 Philippine Elections

‘Tuloy ang laban’: De Lima declares bid for Senate reelection

Mara Cepeda

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‘Tuloy ang laban’: De Lima declares bid for Senate reelection

FIGHTING. Senator Leila de Lima, clad in personal protective equipment, attends her hearing for one of her two pending drug cases at the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court on February 23, 2021.

Senator Leila de Lima's office

Senator Leila de Lima tells President Rodrigo Duterte in a letter that her yearslong detention has only strengthened her resolve to keep on fighting

Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained for over four years after she led a Senate investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war, has declared her bid to seek reelection in the 2022 elections. 

In a scathing letter addressed to Duterte ahead of his final State of the Nation Address, De Lima said she would not be cowed by the attacks from the President himself and would continue the fight in 2022 – even if that meant running a campaign from her detention cell in Camp Crame.

“Marami ang nagtatanong sa akin kung sa kabila ng pagyurak na ginawa mo sa akin ay may lakas pa ako ng loob na tumakbo muli bilang senador sa 2022. Tatakbo akong muli. Hindi ako susuko. Tuloy ang laban,” said De Lima. 

(Many are asking if I still have the will to run for senator in 2022 even if you have trampled upon me. I am running again. I will not give up. The fight continues.)

A lawyer and human rights activist, De Lima used to chair the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and was a former justice secretary before winning a Senate seat in the 2016 polls – the same year Duterte was also elected president.

De Lima became Duterte’s primary target after she led a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings in his bloody war on drugs just months into his term. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)

It wasn’t the first time De Lima had probed deaths linked to Duterte. When she was CHR chair in 2009, De Lima had investigated then-Davao City mayor Duterte for his alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad. 

Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives then launched a congressional probe into De Lima’s supposed links to the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary.  

Drug cases filed against her by the same agency she was once helmed later led to De Lima’s arrest on February 24, 2017, making her the most prominent detainee of the Duterte regime. 

De Lima has maintained that the three drug charges against her were trumped-up and that she was sent to jail due to political persecution. She has been acquitted of one of these charges, but she is still on trial for the two other conspiracy to commit drug trading charges. 

Her four-year detention did not diminish De Lima’s resolve, however, as she continued to lambast Duterte’s abusive policies through dispatches she would write from her Camp Crame cell. 

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The fight continues in 2022

De Lima told the President on Wednesday that her detention only strengthened her will to keep on fighting. 

“Ang pagkulong mo sa akin ay lalong nagpalakas sa akin. Dumoble ang aking pagsisigasig na ibalik ang hustisyang niyurakan mo. Walang silbi ang lahat ng pakikipaglaban ko sa talamak mong pamamalakad kung uurong lang ako sa hamon ng pagtakbo muli,” said De Lima.

(Sending me to jail only strengthened my resolve. I was even more motivated to work harder to bring back the justice you have trampled on. Everything I have fought for would go to waste if I would turn my back on the call to run again.)

“Hindi mo naman talaga ako nawasak. Hindi mo rin ako napasuko. Tuloy pa rin ang laban, kaya hindi rin dito matatapos ang aking kuwento,” she added. 

(You didn’t really destroy me. You didn’t make me give up either. The fight continues, so the story does not end here.)

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De Lima’s reelection bid was supported by her party mate, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, vice chairman of the once-ruling Liberal Party.

“In the face of her four-year ordeal, she has never shown weakness. She bravely continues to call out the administration’s inadequacy and speak out on issues that matter to the Filipino people. Fierce and unyielding, Senator Leila de Lima is a leader and a fighter we need today,” said Drilon. 

While in detention, De Lima has received a number of prestigious recognitions, including the 2018 Prize for Freedom award by Liberal International, 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.

Here is her full letter to Duterte:

– Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.