Leila de Lima

[OPINION] Six years as a Person Deprived of Liberty: Thoughts on Leila de Lima

Winnie Monsod

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[OPINION] Six years as a Person Deprived of Liberty: Thoughts on Leila de Lima
Duterte may no longer be President, but the prosecutors appointed by Aguirre to handle the De Lima cases are still there, and apparently are bent on delaying the resolution of the cases. The worst dragging down the best.

We are republishing this from marengwinniemonsod.ph with permission from the author

How could someone (Leila de Lima) with such a sterling record of competence, honesty and integrity that encompasses her entire life (see her Curriculum Vitae in leiladelima.ph) end up spending the past six years and counting, figuratively rotting in a Philippine National Police detention cell?  

The answer will reveal Philippine government officials both at their best and at their worst, but is, unfortunately, also a cautionary tale that shows how the worst can drag down the best.  

It all started in 2008 when our heroine was 49 years old. She was, at the time, already the head of her own law firm, and was recognized as one of the best election lawyers in the country, and did not need to bribe her way to win her cases. Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s (GMA) asked her to head the fourth Commission on Human Rights (CHR). She accepted, although it meant a diminution of income. Why? It must have been a sense of obligation to the country which had given her all her chances and opportunities. It was pay-back time for her. She obviously did not join the government to make money, as a lot of government employees are wont to do.  

She served only two years (2008-2010) of her seven-year term, but during that time, she managed to energize the CHR on addressing cases of human rights violations, the most infamous of which was the Davao Death Squad (DDS) in Davao City, under then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who reportedly had links to this vigilante group. For doing her job well, she made her first powerful enemy.  

What is the evidence that she was doing her job well? Recognition from the private sector. GMA News TV recognized her as “Public Servant of the Year” in 2009; the San Beda College Alumni Association gave her the “Raul Roco Award for Public Service Excellence”; other awards of a similar nature were bestowed on by other groups. 

Her term was cut short because she had impressed another government official – Senator Noynoy Aquino, who, when he won the presidency in 2010, offered De Lima a Cabinet position, the Department of Justice. She accepted. Reader, what is notable, no, the word is amazing, about this appointment is that she was neither kakampi (ally), nor kaklase (classmate), nor kumadre (fellow sponsor in a wedding or baptism), nor kaibigan (friend) of Aquino – she was chosen on the basis of what she knew rather than on who she knew (his appointment of Conchita Carpio Morales as Ombudsman, and Grace Pulido Tan as Commission on Audit chair, were apparently made on the same basis. The three women were dubbed later as the “Three Furies” who were fearless in uprooting corruption in government. The Philippines got its highest anti-corruption score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index during Aquino’s presidency).

It was in performing her duties as secretary of justice that De Lima again stepped on giant toes – like those of Senators Ramon Revilla, Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile, plus five former representatives (some dynastic), plus executives/employees of government corporations – 38 in all.  It was in regard to these cases that the sobriquet “Three Furies” was coined. To remind, Reader: Revilla and Estrada are back as senators (what does this tell you), and Juan Ponce Enrile, my neighbor, is now very much in the center of power.  

Another giant toe she stepped on was that of former President GMA (who was arrested and incarcerated on charges of electoral sabotage – I must tell you, Reader, that I was on GMA’s side on this issue).  

And think of the number of politicians she angered by her handling of the Maguindanao massacre case.

De Lima did what no other justice secretary before her ever did: conducted raids on the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa with the objective of implementing long-needed reforms, like breaking the power of certain prisoners (I heard one of them, a convicted murderer, boast in court of his money-making activities that were allowed because he greased the palms of the authorities, including Leila de Lima – although in her case he had not one iota of evidence) who were treating the prison as their own private fiefdom, with access to every single item they desired, including cell phones, TVs, drugs, and women.  Bilibid has been described as “a fortress, not a prison”. De Lima changed all that — and gained the enmity of those prisoners. Maybe not giant toes, but pretty large ones anyway.

And when she was consulted by the president on the Philippine case against China in the Arbitral Court, she weighed in on Justice Antonio Carpio’s side, and made more enemies in the process .

But, while she was making all these enemies while doing an excellent job, she was also gaining more admirers among the Filipino people. The San Beda Law Alumni Association, selected her “Outstanding Bedan Law Alumni (sic)” two years in a row, Youthlead Philippines gave her a “Gawad Kadakilaan Para sa Paglilingkod sa Bayan” (Excellence in Public Service), the Philippine Daily Inquirer named her Filipino of the Year (along with the other two Furies), among others.  

She was elected to the Senate in 2016, by 14 million-plus votes.  

So too was Rodrigo Duterte, of Davao City and the Davao Death Squads, elected – as president of the Philippines.

And from the beginning of his incumbency, he turned  his wrath – he was still smarting from her daring to investigate him – against her. He was relentless in his desire to see her in prison (he publicly declared this), aided and abetted by his justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, also (like Duterte and De Lima) a San Bedan. And by all who were desirous of getting into his good graces, in the legislative and judicial branches. Cheered on by the enemies she made in the process of serving her country well. 

They used every trick in the book. They used lawfare. They used intimidation and they used bribery. And they used out and out lies, and when these were found out, they shamelessly invented others. They used trolls and photoshopped pictures and videos to “prove” their case.    

With that kind of artillery, she was in detention within seven months of her election as senator.

The encomiums that had been heaped on her domestically were silenced – either because Filipinos began to believe the lies and calumnies constantly heaped upon her, or they were fearful of a vindictive leader, or, worst of all, they just didn’t care. In any case, when she ran for reelection last year, she lost. That, to me, is the most painful of all.      

But even as praises for her were stilled locally, they began to grow internationally, in recognition of what she had done for the Filipino people and for what was being done against her. The United Nations, parliamentarians all over the world, international media, all asking for justice for Leila de Lima, for her freedom. A reflection of the saying, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, among his kindred”? 

Duterte may no longer be President, but the prosecutors appointed by Aguirre to handle the De Lima cases are still there, and apparently are bent on delaying the resolution of the cases. The worst dragging down the best. – Rappler.com

Solita “Winnie” Monsod was the first National Economic and Development Authority secretary appointed after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. She is a professor emerita at the UP School of Economics where she taught starting 1983. She finished her degree in economics in UP and obtained her masters in economics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a board director of Rappler Inc.

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