Conversation with Sen. Leila, detainee (conclusion) | Inquirer Opinion
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Conversation with Sen. Leila, detainee (conclusion)

Q: How do you keep in touch regularly with your colleagues in the Senate? How do you actively participate in deliberations and hearings?

A: I’m not allowed access to the internet or to have computers and cell phones. I rely solely on written correspondence. Everything is either printed or handwritten. Documents are passed back and forth between me and my staff.

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I’m barred from physically attending Senate proceedings. I can only participate through written manifestations and requests. Even when video conferencing has become the norm in the Senate since the pandemic, I have not been afforded the same opportunity to fully exercise my mandate as a duly-elected senator.

Q: What bills that you authored/co-authored while in detention have been passed? A: In the 17th Congress, I was able to principally co-author 96 bills and 134 resolutions. I also co-authored 57 bills and 27 resolutions. Of this total, 116 bills and 138 resolutions were filed despite the limitations of being already detained.

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As chair of the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, I principally authored 3 bills that were signed into law—RA No. 10923 (Postponing the October 2016 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections), RA No. 11291 (Magna Carta of the Poor), and RA No. 11310 or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) Act.

Congress passed 21 of my co-authored bills—with one having been vetoed by the President.

In the current 18th Congress, as of 25 January 2021, I have principally authored 85 bills and 75 resolutions, while there are 30 bills and 46 resolutions that I have co-authored so far. Of this, one has been signed into law (Republic Act No. 11502 or the National Cooperative Month), 4 co-authored bills were approved on 3rd reading, and 42 co-authored resolutions were adopted.

I can’t help but think that had the circumstances been different, I could be doing so much more.

Q: What would you consider the most important?

A: For social justice measures — the 4Ps, Magna Carta of the Poor, and Community-Based Monitoring System are among the most impactful and beneficial as they guarantee millions of Filipinos social safety nets and institutional aid even as administrations change.

For human rights measures — the bills on Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Anti-Extrajudicial Killings, and Prison Reform. For electoral reform — the amendment to the party-list law that would effectively prohibit political dynasties.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic further marginalizing the needy and vulnerable, I’ve been focusing on economic benefit packages for indigent job-seekers, employment in rural communities, and additional discounts for PWDs and senior citizens. Q: Are you hopeful about the cases against you?

A: Being a lawyer myself, I’m painfully aware of the woes in our criminal justice system that has allowed this kind of weaponization of the law to be used against me. Despite the presumption of innocence and right to a speedy trial, I remain in detention.

Even Associate Justice Marvic Leonen has described my case as “quintessentially the use of the strong arm of the law to silence dissent.” Former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, for his part, said that to allow my continued detention “is one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world.”

But I remain hopeful and with neither fear nor doubt, because truth is on my side. Those who fabricated cases against me and orchestrated my arrest should dread their day of reckoning.

Q: If drafted, will you run for senator in the coming elections? What do you think of Leni Robredo as presidential candidate?

A: This early, my focus is not on the 2022 elections. While Filipinos are out on the streets begging for food and jobs, some politicians have the audacity to display a well-oiled political machinery with calendars and billboards to boot.

VP Leni as a presidential candidate will offer light to the darkness cast on our nation for over 4 years now. She has already proven her efficiency and laudable work ethic, working nonstop even during the pandemic. With nothing that can be thrown against her, her detractors have resorted to peddling fake news.

She has always stepped up her game, as seen in the many programs she has instituted, while the administration only gave false bravado, blamed others, and misdirected issues. She showed up and soldiered on to provide, not excuses, but concrete action and well-researched plans. That’s what the presidency entails—meticulous planning and palpable action, not a three-second relief through distasteful jokes that only get old and boring as days pass.

Q: What is the first thing you will do after you are released on bail or declared innocent and set free? Will you emerge a different Leila?

A: I will go straight to Our Lady of Manaoag Church and offer thanksgiving to Mama Mary. (Before my incarceration, I went there two Sundays a month to attend Mass and light a candle.)

I will visit my ailing mother with whom I was only allowed a few hours. Who knows how many more days she has. And then the fight continues. To the Senate halls I will march again — to preside over committee hearings and participate in the plenary deliberations that I have long been denied of. I will continue my truth-telling beyond handwritten commentaries, but through privilege speeches and other public fora, and pursue more zealously my core advocacies—human rights, social justice, and sovereignty.

I will be a stronger, wiser, and humbler Leila.

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