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The enablers of Leila’s persecution

/ 05:06 AM February 12, 2019

President Duterte has used his considerable powers to persecute his personal enemy, Sen. Leila de Lima — and to their eternal shame many government officials have violated their sworn duty to serve the public interest by enabling her persecution.

In two weeks, it will be two years since De Lima was arrested on bogus charges; her continued detention at the “custodial center” inside Camp Crame is an outrage, a darkening stain on the very face of Dutertismo.

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Name it, and De Lima bore the brunt of it. Concentrated fire from the President’s allies in the Senate and in the House; hypocritical virtue-signaling from the proudly adulterous President himself and his enablers; slut-shaming and other forms of misogyny (Harry Roque’s indecency during the congressional show hearings marking a new low); trumped-up legal charges and manipulated legal processes; demonization through disinformation.

At a conference on democracy and disinformation in Cagayan de Oro last month, Mindanao Gold Star Daily editor in chief Herbie Gomez raised a simple point. Sex videos easily proliferate on digital media; why is the supposed De Lima video scarce? Because it doesn’t, in fact, exist. De Lima is the country’s biggest victim of disinformation, Gomez concluded.

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Well, President Duterte had help.

In “How to save a constitutional democracy,” the legal scholars Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq explain why, perhaps counter-intuitively to many of us, the government bureaucracy should be understood as a “natural ally” of democracy. (In the Philippine setting, we may often think of government offices as the spoils of our electoral system, the triennial object of executive capture.) Ginsburg and Huq argue that “bureaucracy can facilitate and preserve democracy.” They list five “distinct ways,” but it is the fifth which brings De Lima’s situation to mind: “It is rarely the case that either a leader or the leadership of a political party will personally violate rights to speech, association, or due process so as to consolidate their monopoly on political power. (The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is a self-confessed exception here.) Instead, it is generally some element of the bureaucracy that is tasked with carrying out policies on the ground… The efficacy of an antidemocratic project will often turn on the willingness of a bureaucracy to capitulate.”

In the antidemocratic project of persecuting De Lima, the bureaucracy under President Duterte willingly surrendered.

The Philippine National Police placed her in a stripped-down detention setting; to this day, she is treated like a convicted prisoner, rather than a detainee on trial. She stays inside an area without appliances like a TV or a radio; she can work on legislative matters but without the use of cell phones or computers or an internet connection; she sleeps in a cell without air-conditioning (as recommended by her doctors).

The starkness of these conditions contrasts with the creature comforts other high-profile, high-risk detainees in the custodial center routinely enjoyed. To cite only one risible example, former senator Bong Revilla’s cell phone was confiscated in what the PNP called a “swift inspection” after he had posted pictures on Facebook. The famous actor had become habituated to his privileges. (Revilla, whose plunder case was the most airtight, in the considered opinion of the former ombudsman, Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, has since been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan in a sensational, inexplicable reversal of legal fortune.)

The Supreme Court, nominally an independent and entirely separate branch of government, has also capitulated in the Duterte administration’s persecution of an incumbent senator. The same court that released former senator Juan Ponce Enrile on bail in his nonbailable plunder case on “humanitarian” grounds that Enrile did not even see fit to raise as a legal argument, declined to reject the government case against De Lima despite the patently unconstitutional substitution by the justice department of one charge (alleged trading in illegal drugs) to another (alleged conspiracy to trade in illegal drugs).

The substitution must have been done because the first charge required a corpus delicti—that is, some of the illegal drugs that De Lima was alleged to have traded in—and the police, the prosecutors and the convicted drug lords persuaded to testify against her could not produce any. But no new investigation was conducted to justify the amendment of the charge—and if there had been more justices devoted to civil liberties, they could have stopped the entire charade right then.

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None of this, or the other forms of persecution and harassment inflicted on the indomitable De Lima, is in the public interest. Together, and to borrow Ginsburg and Huq’s terminology, they hasten democratic erosion or democratic decay, and at the same time are proof of it. We know President Duterte is primarily to blame, but there is plenty of that to go around; his enablers have their shameful share.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: john Nery, Leila de Lima, Newsstand, Rodrigo Duterte
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