I REGULARLY POST news items about Senator Leila de Lima. Her cause is one I have seriously backed, because hers is one of the most nefarious cases of injustice I have ever witnessed. She deserves to be heard.
She has been imprisoned for 1 year and 10 months now and most likely will be kept behind bars at this regime’s pleasure. The drug charges against her hold so little water that they have been repeatedly amended just to avoid outright dismissal. That the “adjustment” of the charges was allowed is highly questionable, but not very surprising. Questionable too were her delayed arraignment and the serial inhibition of several judges to which the cases were raffled. Every dilatory tactic has been employed in her cases – and yet to those familiar with the Dangerous Drugs Act, her innocence is clear.
She has said from the get-go that the loss of freedom is her “penalty” for standing up to Rodrigo Duterte and his butchery. Her detention on trumped-up drug charges without bail rests entirely on the false testimonies of convicted criminals now codddled by the State. This is a brazen violation of Rule 119, Sec. 17 (e) which prohibits those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude from testifying as state witnesses. The rule is so basic that I wonder how Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra can justify its violation. The State is relying on convicted drug lords to be its witnesses. This is a fact that needs no debate.
Even with the full arsenal of the government arrayed against de Lima, Duterte has not ceased from slandering her. That is only one of the attacks against her dignity and rights. Those of us with a high view of justice and the rule of law can list how she is innocent yet persecuted. Let us count the ways:
1. INNOCENT: De Lima bravely faces charges hurled against her in Court.
She could have sought asylum abroad or hidden from the law, as some presidential friends (past and present) have done. But she did not. In fact, she rejected suggestions to do so. Instead, she presented herself to authorities and allowed herself to be detained according to legal processes.
2. PERSECUTED: All charges filed against de Lima are fabricated.
The drug charges that the Department of Justice has lodged, with Duterte’s overt supervision, haven’t a leg to stand on. Anyone who has read the Dangerous Drugs Act with understanding knows this. Duterte is grinding an ax with relish against de Lima, who once hauled him on the carpet for his alleged human rights abuses in Davao. He ominously declared in September 2016:
“After the investigations are finished, I am sure of my evidence. Ikaw ‘yung nag-una (You started it). You started in Davao,” said Duterte, referring to De Lima’s time as Commission on Human Rights chairperson when she first expressed alarm over summary executions in Davao City.
The President said “plenty” of charges will be filed against the senator, charges for which bail is not an option.
In his various tirades, Duterte made known his deep umbrage against de Lima for investigating his involvement in the “Davao Death Squad” when she sat as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. As she put it, her detention “was the “fulfillment of Mr. Duterte’s fixation for revenge against me.”
But Duterte isn’t alone. De Lima, who is known for her feisty, uncompromising fealty to justice and the rule of law, has expectedly made enemies throughout her years of public service. Duterte is only one of the well-entrenched and powerful she has butted heads with in her career.
3. PERSECUTED: De Lima initiated the Senate probe on extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs.
De Lima further infuriated Duterte when as chair of the Senate committee on Justice and Human Rights, she launched an investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) ensuing from the government’s all-out war on drugs. It was Duterte’s political allies who subsequently removed her as chair of the Justice Committee and prematurely terminated the probe on EJKs.
4. PERSECUTED: Duterte’s allies in the government and Congress ganged up on de Lima.
During a House probe on the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison, Duterte’s allies at the House of Representatives pried with execrable malice into de Lima’s personal life. They were more interested in making innuendoes than posing pertinent questions on the proliferation of drugs.
5. INNOCENT: The government adjusted the charges against her several times but never presented evidence linking her to the drug trade.
Eager to link de Lima to illegal drugs, the government spent months adjusting its complaint against her to fit its narrative, eventually changing the original accusation from “drug trading” to “conspiracy to trade illegal drugs.”* That the government would turn the law into a weapon of persecution instead of an instrument for justice is twisted and despicable.
To date, however, the government has yet to produce physical evidence to prove de Lima’s involvement in illegal drugs. No bank accounts holding the supposed drug money or actual samples of the drugs supposedly traded have ever been presented in Court.
Granted, then DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III once presented bank transaction slips as “evidence,” but they were easily exposed as fake.** This kind of bungling was, as we all know, par for the course for the debunked Secretary of Justice.
6. INNOCENT: The principal witnesses against de Lima are convicted criminals.
The government prosecution’s 13 witnesses against De Lima are convicted drug lords currently serving time in the New Bilibid Prison.
By testifying against her, the Bilibid 13 not only earn prison privileges, they also get back at her for uncovering their prolific drug trade in the NBP. De Lima was the first Philippine Justice Secretary to successfully raid their nipa huts (kubol) and expose the Bilibid 13’s shamefully extravagant lifestyles permitted by the NBP officials. It was de Lima who sequestered them in Building 14 of the maximum security compound.
Considering the loss of their luxury, the dismantling of their lucrative business, and the privileges they now hope to enjoy, the Bilibid 13 cannot be allowed to testify against Leila de Lima. They not only lack credibility, objectivity, and integrity, they are also disqualified from becoming “state witnesses” because they have been convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude such as murder, kidnapping and drug trading. This violates the Rules of Court.
Rule 119, Sec. 17 (e) says:
Sec. 17. Discharge of accused to be state witness. – When two or more persons are jointly charged with the commission of any offense, upon motion of the prosecution before resting its case, the court may direct one or more of the accused to be discharged with their consent so that they may be witnesses for the state when, after requiring the prosecution to present evidence and the sworn statement of each proposed state witness at a hearing in support of the discharge, the court is satisfied that:
(e) Said accused has not at any time been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.
7. PERSECUTED: Police authorities are desperate to keep de Lima away from the media.
I am disgusted at the way de Lima’s police escorts have prevented the national and foreign media from talking to or taking photos of her during her public outings. They have forcibly blocked reporters from approaching her, covered her face with a folder, and drowned out her voice with fake coughs when she attempted to reply to questions. This blatantly violates her rights. I recall at least one incident when they hustled her to and from the courtroom so that she lost her balance and stumbled. This video shows it clearly:
A Senator of the Republic of the Philippines deserves respect. Every Filipino citizen deserves respect. Her rights and ours must be protected by those who call themselves enforcers of the law.
8. PERSECUTED: The international community and world leaders vouch for her innocence but the Duterte administration bars foreign guests from de Lima.
International organizations and members of the human rights community such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, European Parliament, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights Council and the Asian Liberals and Democrats, among others, have repeatedly called for de Lima’s release, stressing that no strong evidence has been presented against her. Yet despite the sound legal arguments propounded by these organizations, she remains detained.
Moreover, not only the media but also de Lima’s foreign visitors are prohibited from seeing her. Despite her right to visitors’ access, the Philippine National Police continues to bar foreign guests from meeting and speaking with de Lima. Could this be an attempt to prevent them from witnessing her situation and helping her get a fair trial?
9. PERSECUTED: De Lima is a favorite target of pro-administration fake news manufacturers.
From the very beginning of her campaign against EJKs, de Lima has been a consistent target of fake news and troll messages, ranging from drug and corruption allegations to attacks on her personhood and security. It’s noteworthy that online fake news about de Lima have been mostly shared and re-shared by pro-Duterte pages and websites to various social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube.
It has been established, but needs restating, that de Lima was not the woman in that controversial sex video.
The sex video touted by Duterte and his allies as allegedly featuring de Lima shows a woman who is very clearly not Leila. The video was merely a weapon of intimidation wielded against de Lima and used to slut-shame her. In the end it only revealed Duterte and his cohorts’ capacity for ridiculous bullying.
10. INNOCENT/PERSECUTED: Legal luminaries see political persecution against de Lima.
When the Supreme Court upheld the arrest warrant issued against de Lima, six magistrates including then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Justices Antonio Carpio, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa registered their dissent. Calling her a victim of political persecution, they maintained that the majority position disregarded her right to due process.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio ciited the High Court’s decision as “one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world.” In his dissenting opinion, he said the Supreme Court should not support such a “fake charge” against de Lima.
11. INNOCENT: De Lima’s solid track-record in government service remains unsullied, and she has continued to receive awards and citations.
Throughout her professional life, from her law practice to public service, de Lima has been recognized as a woman of integrity who has never been sullied by corruption or played the power game. Despite her unjust detention, she continues to reap commendations here and abroad for her outstanding fight for justice and human rights.
The awards conferred on her include: Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People in the World (2017), Foreign Policy Magazine Global Thinkers (2016, 2017), Fortune Magazine 50 World’s Greatest Leaders (2018), and Amnesty International Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender (2018), among others.
This year, she received Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom, only the second Filipino apart from Corazon Aquino to ever receive the award. UN Human Rights Council High Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein referred to de Lima as an “exemplary leader” and a “sample of the real story of moral courage and leadership that exists among us today.”
12. INNOCENT: De Lima was never too sick for detention.
De Lima vowed never to gratuitously use a wheelchair or wear a neck brace or use illness as an excuse to avoid detention, and she has kept her word. She also committed to be transparent about her medical condition, and so after her medical examination at the Philippine Heart Center last March, she immediately reported the results to the public.
Justice means delivering to each person what is due him or her. To the guilty belong punishment. To the innocent belong vindication. In de Lima’s case, justice has not been served. Her innocence is visible to all except those whose vision is marred by vendetta and deception. It is my prayer for Leila, and for the Philippines, that this heinous malady will soon be corrected and that justice will “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
“He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.” – Psalm 37:6
*“Prosecutors to amend charges vs de Lima” (October 18, 2017, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/938796/prosecutors-to-amend-charges-vs-de-lima)
“DOJ amends drug charges vs de Lima again” (December 8, 2017, https://m.inquirer.net/newsinfo/950757)
“10 months since arrest, DOJ still amending case vs De Lima” (December 19, 2017, https://www.rappler.com/nation/191725-de-lima-drug-case-doj-yearend-2017)
“18 months after arrest, De Lima finally arraigned in drugs cases” (August 1=, 2018, https://www.rappler.com/nation/209256-de-lima-arraigned-after-18-months-since-arrest)
**The deposit slips bore inconsistencies such as the use of a nickname and the date of a deposit slip falling on a bank holiday.
“Ex-DOJ clerk denies bank account, statements vs De Lima” (September 2, 2016, https://www.rappler.com/nation/144966-de-lima-employee-edna-obuyes-denies-bank-account)
“Questioned BDO account with P24M exists, name not De Lima’s ex-staff” (September 6, 2016, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/813343/de-limas-ex-staff-confirms-bdo-account-not-under-his-name#ixzz5YXNzTpuA)