Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has warned against some popular senatorial candidates who might undermine the country’s democracy and freedom should they get elected in public office come the May 2019 elections.
De Lima made this appeal as she shared her reflection with her guests during a Holy Mass held this morning at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City to mark her two years in unjust detention for false drug charges.
“Trojan horses could make their way into the Senate, unless we do something about it. They will destroy the remaining shred of independence of that institution,” she said, without naming names among the long list of senatorial candidates.
“We cannot fight this battle alone,” she added, mindful that nation-building entails reaching out to others no matter how approaching them might seem unlikely.
A staunch defender of human rights and social justice, De Lima is politically persecuted for being a fierce critic of the Duterte administration’s crooked policies.
With the senatorial elections in May 2019 on her mind, De Lima said the country’s democracy is under siege as she underscored the need to elect national leaders who can truly protect our rights and liberties against attacks by some quarters.
“Give them a chance. They might surprise you. For as long as there is a chance they might be persuaded to uphold the independence of the Senate–and by that, I mean vote for Otso Diretso–reach out to them.”
Two out of the eight senatorial bets belonging to Otso Diretso–Sen. Bam Aquino and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno–were in attendance. Addressing her guests earlier, De Lima endorsed the opposition candidates as “diretso sa paninidigan, diretso sa katalinuhan, at diretso sa pagmamahal sa bayan.”
Also present were De Lima’s fellow senators, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Liberal Party President Sen. Francis Pangilinan, as well as some of her former colleagues in the Aquino administration where she served as Justice Secretary.
Recalling her arrest on 24 February 2017, the lady Senator from Bicol shared how she bid farewell to her staff in the Senate who were “fighting back tears” when she said to them that she is not sure how long her ordeal will last.
“Sana, a few years lang,” is what she revealed to have been her thought at that time but did not say out loud because she didn’t want her staff to think that she was afraid of long detention.
“I did not want to leave them with fear in their hearts. I wanted to be strong for them,” she added.
She hoped for relief through a favorable decision on her case by the Supreme Court but it did not come. “How many more years shall I endure? Nobody knows,” she said, saying the last two years has shown that the judiciary is not immune to political pressures and that the “state of our justice system hardly inspires confidence.”
But De Lima said there had been minor victories along the way, citing last Friday’s hearing in Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 when the Prosecution presented its first witness, former police director Benjamin Magalong, who, she said, “did not lie, could not lie and would not want to lie.”
De Lima shared that when the former chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) was cross-examined, he was asked by her defense laywer: “In all your years of gathering information, whether in your professional or personal capacity, did you ever hear anything at all on the alleged involvement if the accused Senator de Lima in illegal drugs.”
“To which, Magalong replied, ‘None. Negative.’ He also said that I had no integrity issues,” De Lima said to the applause of her guests.
However, the Senator is not as confident that the other witnesses, including the convicts detained at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) who were illegally admitted as state witnesses in violation of the expressed provisions under the Witness Protection Program (WPP), could be capable of such truth-telling.
Referring to judges who have been assigned to her cases but later inhibited or opted for early retirement, De Lima said: “Nobody wanted to touch the cases at first, and I don’t blame them. They know that they will be damned if they do justice, and damned if they don’t. They know what is at stake…If they do justice to me, they would offend the powers that be. If they do right, they would incur the Duterte wrath.”
“Today’s Gospel strikes hard at me,” she said, adding that loving your enemies is easier said than done. “Could I love my enemies? I don’t know if I could get there. I would need to meditate further,” she told her visitors.
De Lima then asked herself a “simpler” question instead, whether she could forgive those who have wronged her.
“Even though they do not ask for my forgiveness, the truth is, I have long forgiven them those who were just used as pawns against me. But they’re not the real enemies,” she said.
De Lima said that Duterte may be “the most blatantly and vocally vicious” against her, but he is just one of her “powerful enemies”.
“In time, I can find it in my heart to forgive but I will never forget, because to forget is to surrender my humanity,” she added.
De Lima said that all throughout history there have been days of infamy that should not be forgotten for the sake of the victims of injustice, and in order to remember lessons from the past. “Do not forget that there is one Leila de Lima who became a victim of persecution and injustice. And that is what I ask of you. Never forget. Remember the 24th day of February. That is the day when the truth, justice, rule of law and democracy were put to test. We still have not lost. The battle continues,” the Senator said, stressing that Filipinos have the chance to uphold justice and democracy in the elections two months from now.