Senator Leila M. de Lima today called on her fellow parliamentarians in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to come together to fight for democracy and find solutions to the spread of fake news in their own jurisdictions.
In a message read by former Rep. Walden Bello during a roundtable discussion on the state of democracy in Southeast Asia hosted by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), De Lima said fear is the “most insidious and imminent threat” to democracy
“Fear of reprisals from an oppressive government, led by a vindictive President, who believes he has the power of life and death over his people. Fear that paralyzes people, including government officials, from doing what is right. Fear that makes them think twice, thrice, several times over before they dare stand up for what is right – until it’s too late,” she said.
“Fear that is slowly, but surely, co-opting or neutralizing our independent institutions. Fear that is converting our democratic government into an oppressive, authoritarian rule, backed by a mob of greedy and blood-thirsty gangsters parading as public officials and police officers,” she added.
De Lima’s full speech entitled “Threats to Philippine Democracy: The Tyranny of Fear and Lies,” was delivered to the ASEAN parliamentarians on Monday in Makati.
To highlight how fear threatens democracy, De Lima cited the government’s effort to silence the people or group who dare oppose the administration’s policies, especially on killings as crime prevention.
De Lima mentioned the recent threat to expel opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV from the Senate and the plotting of cases to be filed against another minority Senator, Risa Hontiveros.
She also cited the impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, as well as threats to file charges against Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David who has been vocal against summary killings.
The Senator then noted the decision by the House of Representatives to effectively abolish the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by voting to give it a budget of P1,000 for 2018.
Aside from “fear,” De Lima said the other threat to democracy is “fake” news. Citing as an example the Duterte regime’s “fake war” on drugs with “fake agenda,” she said: “It is misleading to call it a ‘war’ if it’s an act of violent aggression against your own people, especially those who cannot fight even to defend themselves.”
“And it is for a fake agenda if we go by the fact that only the poor and the defenseless are being targeted, while big-time drug lords and smugglers go unscathed, still brazenly dealing in large shipments of illegal drugs from China,” she added.
When Duterte assumed presidency in July last year, he promised to eradicate crimes by killing criminals. To date, more than 13,000 people have been killed either by vigilante-style executions or “legitimized” police operations.
De Lima, a staunch critic of the administration’s war on drugs, said it is unfortunate that the face of the present government in the country is founded on “propaganda” such as “fake information, fake statistics, and fake news.”
The Senator from Bicol also pointed out how the police force, government officials and even civilians have been turned into a “bloodthirsty mob” due to fake information and false narratives.
“There are officials who are quoted as saying that such misinformation hurts no one. Not hurting anyone, indeed, except those who are being killed based on possibly false information, false data, and false narrative! That is what is undermining our democracy at the moment,” she said.
While several public officials have turned themselves into Duterte’s lapdogs, De Lima maintained there are a few institutions and people she still have faith in: the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the lawmakers in the House of Representatives who voted “No” to the P1,000 CHR budget, her “brave” colleagues in the Senate and her countrymen who continue to fight for justice and liberty.
Touted as a “Prisoner of Conscience,” De Lima is detained on trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the administration. Yet despite efforts by the administration to taint her reputations, several international organizations including APHR have vouched for her innocence as they called for her immediate release from detention.