Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima expressed solidarity with fellow Parliamentarians across Southeast Asia, who, like her, are experiencing continuing threats and harassment for standing up for decency, human rights and democracy.
In her message read by APHR Board Member and former Philippine House of Representatives member, Teddy Baguilat Jr., during the Parliamentarians at Risk 2021 launch by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights on Dec. 2, De Lima urged her fellow parliamentarians to push back and fight in their respective areas of influence amidst the struggles and challenges.
“I express my deepest appreciation for the inclusion of my own struggles and present situation in the Report, as I stand in solidarity with all the Parliamentarians in Southeast Asia who are similarly situated or are in worse situations than I am,” she said.
“Indeed, the year 2021 is a dark year for human rights in our part of the world. The arrest, detention and judicial harassment of one Parliamentarian is one too many and it affects all of us,” she added.
Aside from Baguilat, other speakers in the event were Thai MP and APHR member Rangsiman Rome and Myat Thida Htun from the Committee representing the Pyidaungsu Huttaw.
In its new report “Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia in 2021,” APHR found that the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) detained in Southeast Asia has dramatically risen this year, from just one in 2020, to 91 in 2021.
According to APHR, while the sudden spike was largely due to developments in Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup in February, there have also been alarming developments elsewhere in the region, including the Philippines, among others.
“In the Philippines, disinformation campaigns, threats and so-called ‘red-tagging’ of opposition lawmakers rose alarmingly ahead of the general elections taking place in 2022, while President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior officials made baseless accusations against left-wing lawmakers, claiming they support an armed communist insurgency.”
“Senator Leila de Lima remains in prison, and has now been arbitrarily detained for close to five years,” APHR noted in its Report.
The lady Senator from Bicol said she could not agree more with the Report when it noted that “an attack on a parliamentarian is an attack on democracy.”
“Democracy is, indeed, under attack. Democratic institutions have been weakened. Space for political discourses has been increasingly limited. Freedom of expression and assembly has been curtailed,” she said.
“Opposition parliamentarians have been jailed or are in hiding for fear of their lives and safety. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has been used as an excuse for the curtailment of the rights and freedoms of Parliamentarians who are opposed to the powers that be,” she added.
De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, said parliamentarians cannot cower in fear amid the rise of authoritarians, stressing that they are at a crucial stage of their political journey and their own countries’ history.
If anything, De Lima asked the public to not see her and her fellow Parliamentarians at Risk as mere victims or examples of what could happen to those who dare to fight abuses of power.
“We remain your active fellow defenders. By whatever means are within our power, we continue to be willing and able defenders of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law. That is my personal pledge, which I am certain is shared by everyone who not only values Democracy for what it is, but understands the long-term perils of the alternative,” she said. (30)