Dispatch from Crame No. 244: Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s statement on the heroism of Atty. Florin T. Hilbay

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In exactly a week, I would be “celebrating” one full year in detention. It’s been 12 months, but 12 months that felt like an eternity to me, personally, waiting for truth and justice to prevail, but has gone by so fast for the rest of the nation, whose attention has been pulled from one issue to another.

Time passed by like a looped wire; it seems to occupy but a short space, until you unravel it and discover its true length.

It seems surreal, therefore, to realize that it hasn’t even been 1 year ago since a member of my staff first ventured to contact former Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay, asking him if he would be interested and willing to stand as my counsel before the Supreme Court, in connection with my Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition. Within a week or so he came to visit me here, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But it was never simple. Life rarely is. He had just agreed to defend someone whom the President himself has targeted for “destruction”. He had taken a great risk—personal and professional—when all he had to go on is his belief in my innocence, the falseness of the charges against me, and the need to defend human rights defenders against political persecution.

I perhaps more than anyone, understand the predicament he placed himself in. He had placed himself in the crosshairs of those who hate dissent.

Bold move. Indeed.

I have known Florin professionally since he was first appointed as Assistant Solgen, and more closely when he rose to the post of Solgen. Even then he was already known to me to be a brilliant constitutional law expert, who topped the 1999 Bar Exam, and had credentials that included being a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Boston College, an LL.M degree from Yale Law School, and fellowships at the Asian Law Institute at the National University of Singapore, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, and Silliman University. Yes, from the Holy Child Catholic School in Tondo, Manila, all the way around the world on a tour of academic brilliance.

As amazingly impressive as all that sounds, that doesn’t even begin to define this man.

Dahil gaano man katalino, kalalim mag-isip at kabilib-bilib ang pinag-aralan ng isang Florin T. Hilbay, hindi pa iyon ang kabuuan ng tunay niyang pagkatao.

One of the stories that has stuck in my mind about Florin is what he said when interviewed after it was announced that he had topped the Bar Exam. Apparently, he wasn’t even keen on becoming a lawyer, even going so far as to say he hated lawyers, because he thought there was a lack of “decency” in the profession.

That one word, to me, defines who Florin T. Hilbay is. He may be a brilliant lawyer, but that pales in importance compared to his being a decent man.

I would say that, if it weren’t for decency, this man would have never taken on the Herculean and yes, risky task of defending my cause, not just in front of the Supreme Court, but also before the whole nation. Our fight was, is, and is shaping to continue to be an uphill battle. We are literally fighting against the odds, and the whole machinery of the government.

Yet, he hasn’t even lost steam. Tuloy pa rin ang laban. He has taken up the cause of other defenders of democracy like Jover Laurio/PAB and the fight to question the extension of Martial Law over the whole of Mindanao until the end of 2018. He even uses his social media platform to bring the Constitution and the true meaning of democracy closer to the people.

That tells you something about a man.

And, that tells me he is a true Filipino hero. Not in the dramatic and epic way that our soldiers and past revolutionary leaders, for instance, are heroic—but in the down-to-earth way of democratized heroism. O yung pagkabayani na kayang-kayang tularan at abutin ng kahit sinoman, basta may paninindigan lamang.

A hero in the way Ralph Waldo Emerson defines a hero, one who “is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” He stands for patriotism, having come back to the Philippines to help bring decency back in the legal profession, despite the opportunities his education undoubtedly opened up for him. And he is still fighting even when he has seen how hard the fight is going to be.

Si Florin ay TNP. Tunay na Pilipino. Someone we can be proud of because, in the words of Bob Dylan, he is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

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