[Conclusion] Leila de Lima: Bloody but unbowed
With the police having become the personal instrument of the President, do you feel safe being incarcerated at the PNP custodial center? With the President now able to get away with almost anything, don’t you feel you can be an object of EJK and the PNP custodial center would be the ideal site for such an action? What is your estimate of getting out of here alive?
I still believe – and, of course, pray – that I would someday regain my freedom and vindication in this lifetime. Perhaps it is naïve of me to say it, but I admit that there is a part of me – perhaps the same part that keeps me going in spite of everything – that believes that my innocence and the importance of my advocacy somehow protects me. I am aware, of course, that this might be more a matter of faith and wishful thinking on my part. I am all that more vulnerable because I am completely and utterly at the mercy of my captors. And that is what I am – a captive in my own country, at the mercy of my oppressors. While my immediate jailers – the police officers here at the Custodial Center – tend to be professional and respectful, I cannot for a moment forget that the person at the very top of the food chain, who himself admits that he has no qualms about killing people, sees me as an arch enemy and has falsely charged me with illegal drug trading, which in the streets today is basically a death warrant for people who are not in this administration’s good graces. He has even expressly stated that he wants me to hang myself. I cannot help but fear that he could have me killed anytime.
In other words, while I still want to believe that my innocence must afford me some protection and chances of deliverance from evil designs, I cannot forget how vulnerable I am. I live and die at the whim of a sociopath.
I know that the legalities are on your side, but since this is a political case, how confident are you that you will be able to get out of custody while Duterte remains chief of state?
While I still have faith in the independence of the judiciary – which might not be for long if the President and his allies succeed in ousting the Chief Justice, which will not only leave open that critical post, but will also necessarily have a chilling effect on everyone else as it serves as a warning against those who would dare stand up to him and his despotic rule – I am not very confident of regaining my freedom while the President remains as powerful as he is today. I have to manage my expectations, you see. And I expect that, even if the merits of my case are strong, probably the best I can hope for is to survive the waiting game. So I remain hopeful because the law and the truth is on my side, but I cannot lose sight of the current political reality we are all living in right now.
If you were offered the choice of pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for freedom and assuming your Senate duties, would you take the offer? Or is your position dismissal of all charges or nothing at all, in which case you are prepared to be detained indefinitely?
The question is, would I sacrifice my integrity by pleading guilty to an offense I did not commit, in order to have the chance to assume my Senate duties and serve the people who elected me into office? On the surface, it seems to ask whether I would sacrifice my personal interest in order to serve the greater good. I will not be serving the greater good by becoming complicit in obscuring the truth and playing into their narrative. By pleading to an offense – any offense – that I did not commit in exchange for some promise, I would be selling my mandate, not serving it. It would be tantamount to admitting that I am being charged, detained and oppressed for reasons other than the simple and incontrovertible fact that I dared stand up to the President in order to defend the human rights of our people – their right to life, liberty, and security – especially the poor and the vulnerable, who are dying in the streets while the real culprits, the big-time and even self-confessed drug lords are going scot-free. Only the truth will set me and our people free.
As someone who has followed your career closely and worked with you on some issues while I was in Congress, I find it inconceivable that people would believe what Duterte’s people are saying about you. Why do you think there are so many people who are willing to swallow Malacañang’s story, no matter how outrageously false it is?
I think there are people who believe because they want to believe. They want to believe because they don’t want to face the reality of who they elected as President. That is the misconception we have about democracy. People feel invested in the person they supported, and they do not want to believe that he is capable of destroying an innocent human being for personal vengeance and political power, because if they admit that, they believe that they also have to admit that they made the wrong choice. I think people aren’t yet prepared for that dose of reality. That is the only explanation I could come up with why ordinary people would believe the lies being peddled by the Duterte administration against me, even in the face of the facts, my track record in public service, the utter lack of evidence and even coherence in the cases filed against me, and the circumstances that placed me in the crosshairs of the President and eventually led me here.
I also believe that we have to do something about the erosion of the integrity of the information that our people are exposed to. Fake news, online and offline troll armies and propaganda machineries that peddle so-called “alternative facts”. If there is such a thing as “alternative fact”, we already have a word for it: lies. People are being exposed to lies. On some level, they are being duped. But on another level, they must know that they are being lied to, but they are probably too weary to sort it out anymore. They have become so tired of, and, thus, desensitized to, separating the lies from the truth. There is truth in the saying that the truth hurts. People are perhaps not yet prepared to face certain truths. The time will come when they will be forced to. Unfortunately, it might take more lives to be sacrificed before that happens.
Hopefully, when they are ready to be awakened, it would not be too late for all of us. On the other hand, I think that there are people who do not really believe that I am guilty of the charges filed against me. These are people who, like you, have worked with me, or have seen me perform my duties, first, as an election lawyer, next as a public servant in the CHR and, thereafter, in the DOJ. But they will not stand up to the President and say that to his face. They will not come out to speak in my favor – even if their conscience tells them that I am a victim of political persecution – precisely because of my track record and the fact that I truly am a victim of political persecution. Duterte has been very successful, thus far, in undermining the independence of offices and officials precisely because they have seen what he can do to an innocent woman.
You said there have been so few of your colleagues and other personalities willing to stand up for you. Where is this coming from? Is it fear of what the President can do to them?
I think the same thing that I have said above applies to my colleagues and other personalities. Some are in denial – they don’t want to face the reality that they have bent the knee, so to speak, to an unscrupulous, sociopathic, vengeful, remorseless despot. Others, I believe, know the truth, but they dare not speak it because they dare not draw attention to themselves, or sacrifice what security – or what little thereof – they feel in the current political climate. After all, if the President can do this to me – someone who is totally innocent – what can he do to others?
Finally, we have to see my current circumstances in light of everything I have done in my career as a public servant. Let’s face it, I have made powerful enemies, many of whom are still in power and have formed an alliance with the President, because of my commitment to delivering justice without fear or favor. Ironically, and yet logically, it is my track record as CHR chairperson and DOJ secretary that has made me a target for vengeance. So there are those who would never speak up for me because they are probably thanking Duterte for giving me what they probably see as my comeuppance. It is perhaps a blessing that I am not a traditional politician. That I am used to standing up on my own. That I do not have to rely on others to find the courage to do and stand up for what is right. The tide will turn, with or without the support of my colleagues, and when it does, they will have to face the consequences of the choices they have made, even the choice to ignore the truth and allow innocent people to be victimized. – Rappler.com