Fearless and principled
In three weeks, Reader, Sen. Leila de Lima will have spent one year under incarceration. A duly elected senator of the Republic, elected without the help of a name ripe with political recall (as in Angara, Binay, Cayetano, Estrada, Marcos, etc.). Not a name tarnished by corruption, but a name that sparkled because of her excellent service to the Filipino people that brought honor to the positions she filled. And the people remembered her when they went to vote. No one has ever accused her of vote-buying.
She was appointed justice secretary during P-Noy’s administration. They were not townmates, or classmates, or even friends. P-Noy chose her on the basis of the reputation that she had built throughout her life: one that was principled and hardworking (her intelligence was a given). She had been Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s chair of the Commission on Human Rights, where she showed fearlessness (and earned Rodrigo Duterte’s enmity). Prior to that, she was in private practice as an election lawyer (reputed to be clean and incorruptible in that field of law practice).
P-Noy also chose his Ombudsman (Conchita Carpio Morales) and his chair of the Commission on Audit (Grace Pulido-Tan) on the same—not KKK (kaibigan, kumpare, kaklase)—basis, and if you will recall, these two and De Lima were later known as the “Three Furies.” Pulido-Tan is no longer in government (she would have been a terrific Supreme Court justice, but her appointment fell through—reportedly “nasulot”—at the last minute). Morales is now also under Mr. Duterte’s gun, as is Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by P-Noy under similar circumstances. What is it with Mr. Duterte and strong, fearless, intelligent, principled women, anyway? An inferiority complex?
But I digress.
As justice secretary—and I am writing this from memory—De Lima had as her first test under fire her leading the investigation into the hostage-taking of Hong Kong tourists at Rizal Park. Her report spared no one, administration friend or foe alike. Not that P-Noy ever implemented her recommendations, but her reputation was even more buttressed. She had no fear of making enemies.
The three raids on the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa that she planned and executed successfully (the prisoners were caught by surprise) were another feather in her cap (or a nail in her coffin, because some of those prisoners were later allowed to testify against her). The raids led to the demolition of the private quarters (kubol) and privileges of financially well-off prisoners and drug lords; a huge amount of money was confiscated, along with a treasure trove of cell phones, television sets, air conditioners, even a jacuzzi, etc., from those who lived like kings while in prison. She was the only justice secretary to pull that off.
De Lima’s decision against former Palawan governor Joel Reyes (accused of ordering the murder of environmentalist Gerry Ortega) gained her my respect, because Reyes was once a client of hers as election lawyer. But she did not let personal considerations influence her.
Not that I agreed with everything she did, Reader. I sharply criticized her when she stood against Hubert Webb, whom the Supreme Court had exonerated, and even more sharply when she prevented Arroyo from leaving the country, contrary to an order from the high court. But as I said, the principle was more important than the person. And that made her a lot of enemies.
The point is that not once during her lifetime before the Duterte administration was De Lima ever accused of corruption or bribe-taking. And the Filipino people voted her as senator, sans vote-buying, sans name recall, sans the backing of any political dynasty.
But as senator, she insisted on investigating the extrajudicial killings, and invited Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, who testified on the Davao Death Squads and on Mr. Duterte’s purported leadership of them. That’s when the sh*t hit the fan.
In short order, De Lima went from reputable citizen to drug queen, named so by Mr. Duterte himself. And by convicted drug lords whose luxurious lives in prison she had overturned.
She is in prison now, under circumstances that should put us Filipinos to shame. (To be concluded)
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