Let us admit, Reader, that our attention span is short, and sometimes our memory as well. This is why I am again writing about the case described by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as “one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino people and the whole world.”
I am talking about Sen. Leila de Lima, who is now over 900 days in incarceration, who was shown on TV recently escorted by PNP officers to visit her ailing mother in Bicol.
She is not the only victim of President Duterte’s vindictiveness—others are former chief justice Meilou Sereno, Sister Patricia Fox and Maria Ressa—all of them tremendous assets of our country, all of them having to hurdle tremendous obstacles and difficulties to serve the country they love.
Leila de Lima first earned the ire of President Duterte in 2009 when he was still mayor of Davao City, and she was chair of the Human Rights Commission investigating the Davao Death Squad (DDS) activities. According to Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed member of the DDS, the DDS had planned to kill her while she was to inspect a DDS murder scene. The plot failed because she did not go deep into the place.
The second time Leila earned his ire was when he was already President and she was a newly elected senator. As chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, she intended to investigate the extrajudicial killings taking place in his war against drugs.
How did the President show his anger? At first, he didn’t name De Lima, but he talked about a female government official he was “going to destroy in public.” Soon after that, he released the so-called “drug matrix” purportedly showing that De Lima was at the heart of the drug trade operations inside the New Bilibid Prison, in Muntinlupa City. He later apologized to the other officials he had implicated, admitting that the administration had been “negligent in counterchecking.” Only De Lima was not exonerated—in effect, she was the only person left in the “matrix.”
What was the basis of this matrix? Well, in 2014, while she was justice secretary, she led raids on the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa and removed the luxurious environment of 19 drug lords—saunas, cell phones, television sets, etc. These drug lords were then used to pin the drug charges against her. No good deed goes unpunished.
The government apparatus was then weaponized against her.
Weaponizing the legislature: (1) The pro-Duterte majority in the Senate removed her as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. (2) The House allowed the secretary of justice to preside over its meetings, getting affidavits from the drug lords who claimed that she had demanded money for her senatorial campaign. And they were more interested in asking details of her love life than anything else.
Weaponizing the executive: (1) Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, apparently in exchange for the testimony of the drug lords, ordered the prison administration to give them back their perks. (2) During the preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice, he accepted the affidavits that the drug lords had executed for the House. (3) He refused to acknowledge that a government official of her rank should have been brought to the Ombudsman. (4) The first charge against her was illegal drug trading. Why? The drug lords said that she had taken money from them, so the charges should have been bribery. But illegal drug trading is not bailable, while bribery is. (5) Without proof of illegal drug trading, they “amended” the charges to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.
Weaponizing the judiciary: (1) The judges ordered warrants for her arrest without determining probable cause. The warrants were issued almost immediately after charges were filed. (2) The Supreme Court, her last resort, showed how anxious they were to please the President—when they could not even agree on what she was charged with—when they dismissed her petition.
In effect, President Duterte marshaled all his weaponry against Leila de Lima. An abuse of power. A waste of Philippine resources. Let’s stop this moro-moro. Free her. Now.