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Perhaps no woman in recent Philippine political history has suffered the most misogynistic attacks, sexual harassment, and political persecution than former senator Leila de Lima.
The past president, Rodrigo Duterte, vowed on his first day in office that he will destroy the woman senator, and he used the whole state apparatus to make good on this threat. The wheels of justice moved too slow, often coming to a grinding halt – as manifested in the enormous delays in prosecuting and hearing three fake drug cases against the woman senator: the resignations and retirement or recuse of no less than eight judges; the use of convicted convicts charged with robbery-murder, kidnapping, carnapping, drug trafficking; etc.
Very few dared to speak up, except for women’s groups like #EveryWoman and #Women2022 which stood up and resisted the state’s systematic vilification and oppression of the woman senator. #EveryWoman was organized in August 2017 to defend, protect, and support the senator who was the target of Duterte’s anger. We regularly visited her at the Camp Crame detention center, attended Mass in what was later called “Parokya ni Leila,” joined her in her court hearings, used social media to advocate for her release, and knocked on doors of anyone who might help in the speedy resolution of the case that was, after all, based on false evidence and coerced affidavits.
Teacher stands by student
I taught Leila when she was a history-political science major at De La Salle University. I strongly believe that a teacher must stand by her student, walk the talk, and live by the principles she taught. It is, in a sense, coming full circle in the teaching profession where one preaches the values of truth, freedom, and justice. In my conversations with Leila, I promised to accompany her in the arduous journey to freedom – no matter how long it takes.
This is my personal story.
With her staff, I organized university fora where the then-senator met with students of the University of the Philippines, Miriam College, Adamson University, the Mendiola schools and colleges before she was arrested and brought to Camp Crame in February 2017. I cultivated close relationships with her chief of staff Fhilip Sawali, her executive assistant Prince Hermida, and media staff headed by Hermund Rosales, along with Bruce Mallo, Marielle Santos, Marjorie Duran, and Mercy Alegrado. Most of them continued to work with her even when there were no longer resources to pay for their efforts.
When Senator Leila sought re-election in 2022, I joined the election campaign as her surrogate in some campaign rallies – as far as Oriental Mindoro where we had to take a ferry boat from the Batangas Pier to reach Calapan and Pinamalayan. I also spoke in sectoral meetings of women, the urban poor, victims of extrajudicial killings, students, and others, to get their votes for Leila. And went to alleys and markets in Mandaluyong City as well.
To mobilize both local and international support for her freedom, we launched on February 19, 2023 a signature campaign through change.org called “Magkaisa, Palayain si Leila de Lima! Release Former Senator Leila de Lima Now!” With more than 5, 500 signatures collected, I submitted the petition to Justice Secretary Jesus Remulla on March 1, 2023, which proved to be difficult as strict security prevented access to his office. But I was able to personally hand over the petition to his staff.
Several advocates for Leila’s freedom also attended court hearings, to name a few: former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; former Commission on Elections chairperson Christian Monsod; economics professor Solita Monsod; former Commission on Higher Education and convenor of Women2022, Patricia Licuanan; former presidential peace adviser and EveryWomancConvenor, Teresita Quintos-Deles; and Movement Against Disinformation (MAD) lawyers led by lawyer Rico Domingo. Many other friends and supporters like Maris Diokno, Tessie Ang See, Mel Alonzo, Alcestis Mangahas, Narz Lim attended different court hearings.
I watched as the prosecutors, most of whom were known to the senator when she was secretary of justice, greeted her warmly as they entered the courtroom. I got to know most of them, including the Chief Prosecutor. And we even took pictures with each other.
But as soon as the hearing started, the lines would be drawn. Their task was to win the case and get Senator Leila convicted.
Lines are drawn
I listened and took down notes as witnesses falsely testified against her and watched the Senator grimace in pain as she heard lies after lies. But I was totally impressed by the brilliant defense team led by Atty. Teddy Rigoroso whose questions were precise, crisp and coherent. His loud, booming voice only made his cross examination of the witnesses even clearer and sharper. He is the Man of the Hour!
To support the defense team’s expenses, we initiated a legal defense fund for Leila, tapping family and friends abroad. At the local level, Tatti Licuanan and Mely Nicolas organized fund raising activities which elicited good response. The funds were not only for bail but to help the former senator rebuild her life.
After every hearing, we would join a group waiting in front of the Hall of Justice to chant “Pekeng Ebidensiya, Ibasura; Leila de Lima Palayain!” Supporters were untiring, unfazed by the heat of the noon-day sun as they waited for the van bringing Leila to the court and sending her off after a hearing is done. Among those who were consistently present were members of the Human Rights and People’s Empowerment Center, Akbayan Women, and #EveryWoman.
Finally, after almost seven years in detention, Leila de Lima, the brave, daring, fearless woman who will never compromise her principles even at the cost of her life and liberty is FREE!
Truth won and justice prevailed.
MABUHAY KA, LEILA! – Rappler.com
Socorro L. Reyes is co-convenor of #EveryWoman and member of #Women2022.