1,000 days of injustice
Yesterday marked the 1,000th day of the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, and I would like to take this opportunity to call out this ongoing injustice. Lest we forget, the charges against her were so vague that the prosecutors themselves didn’t know what exactly she was accused of, and in any case, they relied on the inconsistent, uncorroborated testimony of convicts. As my colleague John Nery pointed out, no less than Justice Antonio Carpio described the charges as “blatantly a pure invention.”
Despite such fatal flaws, the cases have somehow managed to drag on—and the senator remains deprived of liberty, hearing after hearing delayed, appeal after appeal denied. Inasmuch as I would like to presume regularity in our justice system, the events of the past few years, including the quo warranto case and wholesale dismissal of Marcos cases, give me no cause for confidence.
Compare De Lima’s experience with that of Imelda Marcos. On one hand, we have someone who has already been found guilty of seven counts of graft and sentenced to a minimum of 42 years in jail. On the other hand, we have someone who has not been convicted of anything, let alone sentenced. Guess who between them is behind bars?
Compare, also, her experience with fellow senators charged with far more compelling evidence. Did Jinggoy Estrada or Juan Ponce Enrile ever get guarded with a horde of police officers as if they were terrorists? Despite the Sandiganbayan ordering Revilla to return “plundered money,” he is somehow deemed not guilty of plunder.
Such double standards and legal contortions form the sad picture of our justice system today.
My first encounter with Senator Leila was in her office in February 2017; I had wanted to present to her my research on people who use drugs and discuss drug policy reform. From the onset of our conversation, however, it was clear that her mind was somewhere else: “Any moment now, they will arrest me,” she said.
She then recounted her meeting with Rodrigo Duterte, when she was Commission on Human Rights chair and Duterte was mayor of Davao. She had ordered an investigation of the “Davao death squad,” and in a public hearing in Davao City, she castigated Mr. Duterte in front of his constituents. Such a confrontation, she surmised, must have embarrassed the local executive and planted the seeds of vindictiveness.
Days after our interview, her fear would materialize and she would be arrested.
I have since visited her several times in her detention quarters in Camp Crame to offer my moral support and encouragement. Throughout these visits, I have seen how she has grown in physical and mental fortitude. “They can imprison my body, but they cannot put the fight for truth and justice behind bars,” she once told me.
Looking back, perhaps the senator would acknowledge that she should have gone after Mr. Duterte and the Davao death squad while she was justice secretary—despite the political calculus that must have protected the Davao City mayor. But whatever her errors of judgment may have been, and whatever criticisms may be levied against her, there’s no way a supposed “drug protector” like her would call for the investigation of EJKs, or put herself in Mr. Duterte’s line of fire.
Needless to say, De Lima’s continuing detention has consequences beyond her own fate. If “pure inventions” are just what it takes to send a senator to jail, then how would you expect our lawmakers, some of whom have skeletons in their closet, to react to Mr. Duterte’s authoritarianism, if not to bow down to him?
And if a senator can be so unjustly treated, how much more ordinary citizens like us?
Think of the thousands of people—presumed innocent in the eyes of the law—subjected to indefinite detention while awaiting trial. Think of those meted with absurdly harsh penalties whose white hope for freedom—the GCTA law—was hijacked by corrupt jail officials. Think of the activists who face warrants of arrest issued by faraway judges.
To see Leila de Lima’s case as independent from all the above is to turn a blind eye to what’s been happening in the country in the past three years. To see our freedoms as unrelated to hers is to invite the absurdity and the violence to continue.
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