Former Rep. Walden Bello has stressed that the aim of Mr. Duterte’s persecution of and unrelenting attacks against Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima is to demonstrate his regime’s power to do anything it wanted and communicate that resistance was futile.
In his talk during the Malaya webinar on political prisoners in the Philippines held last May 8, Bello said he believes there were not more people who stood up for De Lima at the beginning of her struggles under the Duterte regime because of what he called Duterte’s “blitzkrieg fascism.”
“While at the ground level, Duterte’s panzers rolled over barangays indiscriminately killing people, at the national political level, Duterte and his minions focused their massive firepower on Senator Leila. Both at the ground level and national level, the aim of Duterte’s panzers was to demonstrate the power of the administration to do anything it wanted and communicate that resistance was futile,” he said.
“True, the persecution of Sen. Leila was to Duterte partly a settling of personal scores, the guy’s getting back at her for daring to investigate him for the Davao Death Squad killings. But, probably more important, it was a campaign undertaken for what social psychologists would call its ‘demonstration effect’ on the citizenry,” he added.
It may be noted that Duterte harbored a deep personal grudge against De Lima for exposing his involvement in the vigilante group known as the “Davao Death Squad” during her term as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.
De Lima earned Duterte’s further ire when she introduced a Senate Resolution calling for an investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the government’s all-out war on drugs, which was further fuelled by her announcement that the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which she then chaired, would take the lead in conducting an inquiry into the rampant EJKs in the country.
Duterte later used all his powers at his disposal to cut her down by using his political allies to remove her as chair of the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, after which said Committee prematurely terminated probe on EJKs, followed by the filing of fake charges against her.
Bello further cited examples of Duterte’s Blitzkrieg (directly translated as “lightning war” in German) method that he found to be effective in pushing people to question De Lima’s credibility and innocence from all the false accusations against her, as well as stun people who believe in her into inaction.
“One was the blatantly misogynistic line of attack, characterizing Sen. Leila as ‘an immoral woman.’ This was, in a very real sense, a witch hunt, a drive to paint this particular woman who had the gall to stand up to the omnipotent patriarch as the source of all society’s evils,” he said.
“Related to this misogynistic psycho-strategy was the sheer effrontery of the plan to paint a former Secretary of Justice as being at the center of the country’s illegal drugs problem.
“This panzer punch was so bold that it stunned people and, among many of those who did not know Senator Leila, it made them question their initial common sense or instinctive reaction that the accusation was utterly false,” he added.
Bello, however, shared that over four years on, Duterte’s “panzers have run out of fuel” as more people are coming forward to bear witness to a grave injustice in the country.
“Let me quote one acquaintance here: Whenever I ride a taxi these days, I make it a point to engage drivers on the political situation, and one of the things I talk to them about is the frame-up of Senator de Lima. Slowly but surely, the tide is turning, if it has not already turned,” Bello said.
Bello said that the Filipino public who are fighters of truth and justice are instrumental to De Lima’s vindication from all the trumped-up drug charges filed against her by the current Duterte regime.
“Bringing up the case of Senator Leila whenever we can, like my friend does with all sorts of people and in all sorts of occasions, is one way of spreading the truth, and with many of us doing this consciously, as in a chain letter, this can work wonders,” he said.
“Over four years in jail have not broken Senator Leila. Ten more years won’t break her. She perseveres in her belief in her ultimate vindication and in her trust that we are the instruments of that vindication, her avenging angels, if you will. Let us prove ourselves worthy of that trust,” he added. Access copy of Prof. Bello’s speech here: (https://issuu.com/senatorleilam.delima/docs/senator_leila_de_lima_a_profile_in_courage?fbclid=IwAR2n9GvZSSBw6O_cBAdRlFyaNhm00fEOuPos6HVbk3hOEbOEDX-YVDIztWM)