The shameful persecution of Sen. Leila de Lima
On Feb. 25, we will be celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolt that bloodlessly and peacefully toppled the Marcos dictatorship. The whole world—which, thanks to TV, was watching—was unanimously in praise of the efforts of the Filipino people.
While Feb. 25 represents a day of glory for us, Feb. 24 represents a day of shame. For on that day, it will have been two years that Sen. Leila de Lima has been held in arbitrary detention, also with the whole world watching.
All because, let’s call a spade a spade: First, she had the temerity to take on President Duterte, when he was still mayor of Davao and she was still chair of the Human Rights Commission investigating the Davao Death Squad. And, second, because she had the even greater temerity, as a senator, to investigate the extrajudicial killings that were taking place in the newly elected President’s war on drugs.
The tipping point, however, in my opinion, was when she presented Edgar Matobato, who directly implicated Duterte with the Davao Death Squad, of which he claimed to be a member. Arturo Lascañas, his superior officer, testified that this was not so, but later on recanted his testimony. In any event, the Matobato appearance looked like it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Understand, Reader, the second and third events, as well as the President’s unbridled reactions, took place within a very short span of time. On Aug. 11, 2016, the newly minted Senator De Lima announced the investigation on the EJKs. Mr. Duterte’s response: He told reporters while in Davao City that he would “destroy her in public,” and began almost daily accusations against De Lima, plus sexist insults.
On Aug. 19, his cohorts in government weighed in, starting with the House of Representatives, which passed a resolution to investigate the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison while De Lima was justice secretary. This was no doubt helped by President Duterte releasing a drug matrix showing that De Lima was at the heart of the drug trade.
On Sept. 19, it was the Senate’s turn: They unseated De Lima as chair of the committee on justice, which was investigating the EJKs. The next day, the House started its investigation on De Lima and drugs.
It was here that the executive branch reared its ugly head. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre figured prominently in the congressional hearings, presenting evidence against De Lima, among which were convicted drug lords. De Lima, as justice secretary, had raided and stripped these convicts of all perks in Bilibid—the only justice secretary that had thought to do so; their testimony should never even have been accepted, as they obviously had axes to grind.
It was during these hearings that De Lima was hung out to dry—including questions on her personal and sex life, and talk of sex videos (fake), all permitted by a “tuta” Congress.
In December 2016, three complaints were filed against De Lima with the DOJ (the complainants were later rewarded with government positions). And the DOJ accepted jurisdiction over them, against the law which says that criminal complaints against government employees of certain (high) ranks should be filed with the Ombudsman. Vitaliano Aguirre, in this case, acted as judge and prosecutor at the same time (remember his role in Congress).
What about the judiciary? Alas, the judiciary also showed their “tuta” characteristics. Orders of arrest were issued, with no review of probable cause. De Lima turned to the Supreme Court for relief. But the Supreme Court ruled 9 to 6 that the arrest orders were justified.
But the Supreme Court’s slip was showing: because the nine justices comprising the majority weren’t even sure of what the charges were—five thought that the charge was illegal drug trading, three said that it was conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, and one said that it could be either. Can you imagine?
Thus did the President, with the help of a compliant and complicit executive, legislative and judiciary, publicly destroy Senator De Lima. The full force of government against one person—and almost within six months, she was incarcerated. Her detention is going on two years, with no end in sight.
Something is very wrong here. More about this later.
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