I FIRST MET Leila when I was in high school. She was one of my Dad’s students in the San Beda College of Law and I occasionally proctored her class. Daddy’s students then knew him as Dean Isagani A. Cruz – constitutionalist, political law expert, lawbook author, tough mentor – “terror.” To excel in his classes was a monumental feat; to be esteemed by him was the holy grail. Leila managed both.
She graduated as her class salutatorian and placed 8th in the 1985 bar examinations, which were then held in November. It was providential timing, for when Daddy was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on April 16, 1986, freshly-minted Atty. de Lima was eligible for recruitment.
Daddy selected the crème de la crème for his staff because he needed help. Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee had asked one favor of his colleagues when they began: to clear the 6,000-case Marcos backlog by the time of his retirement. They were happy to oblige, but it was a gargantuan task. I vividly recall how hard my Dad worked on his caseload. He depended on his legal clerks for cogent memoranda and expected them to defend these with conviction. He did not have time for vacillators.
I graduated from university in 1988 and worked alongside my Dad as his assistant. It was my job to review his ponencias for stylistic and substantive flaws before they were finalized. I rarely found any, but I received an education in constitutional law simply by going over his work. My office was adjacent to his chambers and we left the communicating door open as a rule. It was my secret pleasure to eavesdrop on his animated discussions with his clerks; he relied on them heavily, more on some than on others, and among those few was Leila. She gave back as good as she got.
CJ Teehankee retired in 1989 and left the Supreme Court with clear dockets. At that time, Leila also resigned to enter private practice. Daddy encouraged her with paternal good grace; but to us at home he expressed great regret over losing one of his most talented clerks.
Daddy’s staff inevitably changed over the 8 and a half years he sat on the Bench, but they remained close and kept in touch even after they had moved on. They were all there when he retired on October 11, 1994. It was for us a bittersweet farewell made somewhat less poignant by the presence of our Supreme Court family.
DENIAL OF RIGHTS
I lost track of Leila de Lima for a few years as she immersed herself in election law, and only caught sight of her again when, as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, she investigated the Maguindanao Massacre. I followed her from a distance throughout her career as Secretary of Justice during the Aquino Administration and felt a secret pride in her success, knowing that Daddy had a hand in molding it.
I wasn’t surprised that she won a Senate seat and that she immediately began investigating the extrajudicial killings which in December 2016 already numbered more than 4,000. Her dauntless, relentless challenges to Rodrigo Duterte would take their toll, I feared; and indeed, he had her arrested within 7 months of his rule.
I never believed any of the charges made against her for the mere reason that I know Leila. I observed her formative years as a lawyer under my Dad’s tutelage. I assure you, Justice Cruz did not suffer hypocrites, nor the mediocre, nor the morally infirm. Her passion for justice matched his, and I suspect that his partiality for libertarian principles tutored her own commitment to human rights. Her career is prima facie evidence of this. To say otherwise is to be ridiculous.
I went to visit her at Camp Crame on Human Rights Day. I was apprehensive because I hadn’t seen her in 23 years; yet she had sent me a grateful note for something I’d written in support of her, and it seemed to blow the years away. When we met and after that initial hug, it was just like old times.
I have been following her cases and know them well; but to hear her describe them made me tear up, not with sentiment, but in anger. Anyone with basic intelligence will grasp the guarantees in the Bill of Rights, including the rights of the accused. Leila’s rights have been quite systematically trampled on by individuals professing – pretending! – to be officers of the law.
The glaring fact that the prosecution has repeatedly amended – no, actually it has substituted – the charges means that the government had no clear case to begin with. This is why no arraignment has yet taken place, and also why Leila will be spending the holidays in detention. It is a legal truism that when the prosecution delays a case, it is because it has no case. With these constant changes, Leila is being denied her right as an accused to be properly informed of the charges against her so as to adequately prepare her defense.
Section 12 of the Bill of Rights provides that “No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
It seems, however, that Leila is being pushed into increasing isolation. She is not allowed any electronic devices, not even a TV to watch recorded movies on or a radio or MP3 player to listen to music with. She is only permitted printed materials; thankfully she is supplied 2 newspapers a day. Her visitors are meticulously vetted, with no room for minor adjustments should some error occur in the visit application, which must be submitted 10 days in advance. Her foreign guests, including those among them who are her true friends, have not been permitted to see her. On days when she has no callers, she is required to stay in her compound which is separate from the rest of the detention quarters. She is alone there. To ease her loneliness, she has rescued a cat and two kittens who have won her heart.
Her room is not large, and has what she describes as “a small window” for ventilation. She says it was very hot during the summer; she requested to have an air conditioner but she was denied. On her last few trips to the RTC, she was hustled roughly from the vehicle to the sala, with no space for the media to interview her, as before. They were kept at a distance and even barred from Leila as her police phalanx pushed and pulled her so that she even stumbled at one point. This video shows it clearly:
Leila is assured by Sec. 14 (2) of the Bill of Rights of the presumption of innocence until the contrary is proved. Yet Harry Roque, presidential spokesperson and so-called human rights defender, recently stated: “We should no longer give credence to anything that comes from Senator Leila de Lima as this is from a polluted source, who was accused of drug trafficking by at least 13 witnesses.” This policy of vilification is presumably sanctified instead of sanctioned by the Palace, seeing as the spokesperson himself publicly condemns her.
What everyone should understand is that Leila has not been convicted. Her guilt has not been legally proven. The charges against her have not been properly outlined. For goodness’ sake, she has not even been arraigned. And yet she is treated this way.
Thinking citizens of this Republic are alarmed by these infractions of the Bill of Rights. Responsible Filipinos know that the guarantees deprived a sitting senator like Leila can be denied any of us. Because she is at risk, we all are.
She is committed to fighting the good fight for her sake and ours. The least we can do is join her.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1