Leila de Lima

[Dash of SAS] We are all Leila de Lima

Ana P. Santos
[Dash of SAS] We are all Leila de Lima
'Freeing Leila will be like freeing parts of ourselves that someone else had always laid claim to'

Over the weekend, Solita “Winnie” Monsod tweeted that she was denied a visit to Leila de Lima at Camp Crame. Monsod, her husband Christian, and Chel Diokno were set to visit De Lima on her 63rd birthday.

Monsod and her party were not the first to have been blocked from visiting De Lima. The list includes but is not limited to former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

De Lima has been in detention since February 2017. She has been deprived of her freedom for over five years based on questionable drug charges which are non-bailable. She has not been convicted of any crime and key witnesses who once testified against her have recanted their testimonies, saying they were coerced to sign affidavits because they feared for their life and safety.

Slut-shaming on a presidential level

Let us remember how De Lima’s detention was led by former President Rodrigo Duterte and orchestrated by a group of men eager to please him and curry his favor. 

Duterte and De Lima faced off years before he became president. When De Lima was head of the Commission on Human Rights, she led an inquiry into the Davao Death Squad, Duterte’s band of vigilantes. Duterte had never forgotten it and vowed to make her pay. 

When De Lima as senator opened a Senate inquiry into Duterte’s drug war, Duterte launched a massive slut-shaming campaign that was passed off as an investigation into De Lima’s alleged involvement in illegal drugs. 

In the process, De Lima’s personal cell phone number and home address were read out loud during a congressional hearing that was live streamed. De Lima was doxxed. She received countless threats on her cell phone and had to move out of her home. Details of her personal life were made public and feasted on by these male legislators, who brandished an air of moral superiority that they cannot lay claim to.

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While Duterte called her “immoral” and an “adulterer,” he faced charges of mass murder and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC). He lambasted her for having the “propensity for sex” even while he has admitted his own propensity for sex, though he needs the help of a blue pill. 

Manny Pacquiao ousted De Lima as committee chairperson. Pacquiao’s own track record shows a number of extramarital affairs and gambling. He was consistently singled out as the legislator with the most absences. 

Then there were the allegations of a sex tape. 

Former Justice Secretary Aguirre proposed to show it in a congressional hearing as evidence. Meanwhile, other evidence implicated Aguirre in the multi-million “pastillas” bribery scandal in the Bureau of Immigration. He later resigned from his DOJ post.

Pantaleon Alvarez supported Aguirre’s proposal, saying it was in  “aid of legislation.” Sometime after, Alvarez and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr. got into a squabble when their mistresses, whom both men bring to state visits, fought over who deserved the better seats in a local festival. 

Alvarez has bragged about having a mistress and children with other women, saying, “Eh, sino ba ang walang girlfriend? Hindi ko ‘yan tinatago.”

Lito Atienza claimed to have watched the sex tape and called it a “horror show.” When Atienza was the mayor of Manila, he imposed a contraceptive ban in all of the city’s government clinics. For years, the clinics in Manila did not carry condoms, pills, or other modern forms of contraceptives, depriving thousands of Filipino women the right and the ability to plan and space their pregnancies. The horrors of reproductive coercion and tyranny under Atienza are documented in ”Imposing Misery,” a report released by women’s rights groups. 

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During a congressional hearing, De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan was asked irrelevant questions meant to elicit juicy details about his relationship with De Lima. Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas and Harry Roque were among those who led this interrogation, which sounded more like locker room talk than a legislative inquiry.

Fariñas’s wife, Maria Teresa Carlson, accused him of years of domestic abuse, including water torture. Carlson recanted her statements, but five years later, jumped off the balcony of her 23rd-floor Greenhills apartment. Her death led to women’s rights groups banding together as Task Force Maria and the group’s lobbying for the passage of the Anti Violence Against Women and Children Act. 

Harry Roque, the opportunist who capitalized on gender rights and equality as legal counsel to Jennifer Laude’s family kept mum when Duterte granted absolute pardon to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton who was convicted of killing Laude in 2016. When he was press secretary, Roque abandoned his position on gender rights and defended the misogynist and sexist tirade that we were all subjected to under Duterte. 

We are all Leila de Lima

The government’s treatment of De Lima is a reflection of how women and people who identify as women are treated in the Philippines.

You could be a senator and have an academic and professional background to prove your abilities, but as a woman or a person who identifies as a woman, you will always be reduced to, judged, and labeled based on your sexuality and the choices you’ve made to express it, explore it, and enjoy it. 

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Leila de Lima is every Filipino woman who has ever been shamed, ridiculed, and vilified for her sexuality. Which is basically every Filipino woman who dares to go beyond the prescriptive heteronormative monogamy that is so prized but hypocritically and sporadically practiced. 

Just as women and other concerned citizens blocked showing the reported sex tape by launching the #EveryWoman campaign years ago, we need to demand that the government release De Lima. Our battle cry behind #EveryWoman was “I am the woman in the sex video.” Now it should be that “we are all Leila de Lima.”

The government must free Leila. And we the public must clamor and fight for De Lima’s freedom. If we think about it hard enough, freeing Leila will be like freeing parts of ourselves that someone else had always laid claim to, always rigidly controlled, always unrightfully possessed. – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos writes about the intersections of sexuality, sexual health, and female migrant labor. She has a postgraduate degree in Gender (Sexuality) from the London School of Economics as a Chevening Scholar. Follow her on https://www.facebook.com/sexandsensibilities and Twitter: @iamAnaSantos 

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