Happy birthday, Senator Leila | Inquirer Opinion
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Happy birthday, Senator Leila

Dear Senator Leila,


Please consider this a fan letter, in celebration of your birthday, and in celebration of what you represent to the Filipino people.

No one can deny that you are a victim of this administration’s vindictiveness, mendacity, gross abuse of power. That this is the fifth time your birthday is being celebrated while under detention is an indictment not only of a vindictive administration which has pulled out all the stops, including lying and intimidation to get and keep you detained, but also, I regret to say, of the Filipino people, who have allowed this to happen by keeping silent or by looking the other way. Evil triumphs when people of good will do nothing.


Your appointments as chair of the Commission on Human Rights (2008-2010) by President Gloria Arroyo, and then as secretary of justice (2010-2015) by President Benigno Aquino III, showed that you were appointed not because of who you know but because of what you know, unlike many government appointees who either are friends with the appointing power, or schoolmates, townmates, etc. Two separate presidents, who were at each other’s throats, gave you important appointments. They did not know you well, but they knew of you—of your excellent qualifications.

And you did not disappoint. Your decisions were based not on what you were told by the appointing power, or on what you thought might please them, but on what the evidence showed. If only all government officials were like you, the Philippines would be in a much better place. But unfortunately for you and for the country, it was precisely these characteristics that put you on the wrong side of the current president. As chair of the Commission on Human Rights, you had the temerity to beard the lion in his den—to go to Davao to investigate the Davao Death Squad. You were not intimidated by then Mayor Duterte. What an insult this must have been, more so because it was by a woman.

And so, when he became president, one of his first acts was to sic all the resources at his command against you—the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. He was committed to destroy you in public, to jail you, and to see that you rot in jail. All this he announced, without fear of retribution.

To that effect, he and his henchmen spread lies about you, claimed you were involved in drugs—“mother of all drug lords”—without a single iota of evidence other than the testimonies of convicted felons who would lose nothing and possibly gain a lot by cooperating. After all, it was your raids on the Bilibid as secretary of justice (the only one who had dared) that stripped them of the power and perks they had been enjoying in jail.

Barely eight months after you won a senatorial seat, you were jailed. Check. And you have been kept in jail by a Supreme Court decision in 2017 penned by Supreme Court Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., whose son, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, is now speaker of the House.

Whether you have been successfully destroyed in public, only the next elections will tell, and I, among many others, will fight for you to be No. 1 in every thinking Filipino’s senatorial list on election day next year. Truth will out. And what is 100 percent certain is that you will not rot in jail.

Keep in mind, Senator Leila, that UN experts have concluded that your detention is arbitrary, given the absence of legal basis; that a resolution has been agreed to in the United States Senate condemning the Philippine government for your continuing detention; that the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights have asked for your immediate release; and so have many parliamentarians from so many other countries all over the world. They are not dumb. They have seen what is being done by this government, and have expressed their dissent. International public opinion is heavily in your favor. We are going to see to it that Filipinos everywhere are made aware of this.


Keep also in mind that the Velasco decision was roundly rebutted and dissented from by the best minds in the Supreme Court, and the most principled: Carpio, Leonen, Sereno, Jardeleza, Caguioa, Bernabe.

You’ve got truth, brains, and principle on your side. You have spoken truth to power. You will win. Happy Birthday.

[email protected]

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