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Leila de Lima: Bloody but unbowed

Why has Duterte focused on you?

It’s a personal vendetta. He can’t stand my having dared to investigate him in 2009, when I was CHR chair. We had open public hearings on the Davao Death Squad, and we summoned him. He appeared. I told him straight that we were told that he had encouraged the unsolved killings. He has not forgotten nor forgiven me. He got a tape about an interview in Davao where I said that I would prove that there is DDS and he’s behind it. When he became President, he said in a public event that he would make me eat the CD. Second, because I am a woman. He can’t imagine that a woman would dare defy him, much less openly oppose him. His own men and contemporaries in San Beda confirm he can’t stand being contradicted.  So what more if a woman opposes him.

He told Congress not to interfere with his war on drugs. On July 13, 2016, when I called for an inquiry, the old wounds resurfaced, and what really angered him was when we presented Edgar Matobato as a witness. I am also an easy target. I don’t belong to any dynasty, have no influential friends, and don’t have any political clout. I made enemies during my stint at the DOJ as SOJ, among them GMA, some senators, and people who belonged to powerful blocs. So no one really came to my defense or my rescue.

Aren’t there people whom that the President listens to?

There are decent people in the Cabinet, like ES Medialdea, and Secretaries Tugade, Evasco, Dureza and Briones, who are in a position to ask the President to stop the killings. But will they do it? These Cabinet members can see the growing outrage, especially over the killing of the student. It’s very clear what’s right and wrong. But they’re scared of the President because he does not like to be contradicted. To me, it’s no surprise that they are fearful of the President. At the same time, they don’t want to take the option of resigning. The constitutional provision is available that if a president is physically or mentally incapacitated, the Cabinet can declare him unfit to discharge his duties. They can have recourse to that.  I don’t see anyone in the Cabinet who would even raise the subject. But if they persist in their silence, they are complicit in what is happening.

Is the PNP hopeless?

It’s not really hopeless. But rebuilding the institution will take years since the current crop of police officers have been converted into cold-blooded killers and they’ll be there for two more decades.  Reforming the PNP will take more than the usual reforms. A few more years of this would take a toll on the institution. The next president will have his hands full attending to this institution.

What about the military?

To be honest about it, the only remaining institution that is more or less faithful to its constitutional mission is the military. Congress supported the martial law extension and the Supreme Court supported the Marcos burial and provided the legal justification for martial law. I am still trying to pin my hopes though in the Supreme Court, even if 10 or 11 are or will be the president’s own appointees if he serves his term. Congress is very disappointing. It has served as a rubberstamp and lost the opportunity to manifest its ideal role as an independent branch of government. But the military is hanging on, so far. As an institution it refuses to be used in the war on drugs. The President knows his hold on the military is less strong than on the other institutions.

What about the Senate?

The President could not stand me and wanted me out. The majority could not afford to go against the wishes of the President because he has the capacity to make their lives difficult. He has dossiers on each of them and he can use these to harass them. They were scared of the President, but they would not admit that or admit that ousting me was what the President wanted. Some of them are sincere, and as things become more and more unacceptable, some of the others may seize the opportunity to take advantage of the outrage as the tide turns. I have an idea of who are the sincere ones and who are plain opportunists. –

(To be concluded)