Courage is a verb
When dread descended upon our land as martial law was declared one September night nearly half a century ago, it unleashed harsh retribution on those who dared dissent or who raised their voices against the Marcos dictatorship. The wall of remembrance that stands tall on the grounds of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani provides testament to the sacrifice of young lives and brave souls who fell in the night during that dark era.
Among them were companions and former students of mine whose dreams were shattered, such as Emmanuel Yap, Edgar Jopson, Ferdie Arceo, and Billy Begg, to name but a few I personally knew. Others bore the scars of imprisonment and torture that would scar them for life, while others were simply made to “disappear,” a cruel phenomenon that caused unending grief to so many families.
Vestiges of these practices continue to this day, inflicting death and desolation on victims of extrajudicial killings and those “Red-tagged.” The list of those targeted has even grown longer, now including lawyers and human rights defenders, environmentalists and indigenous peoples, and leaders of the urban poor, the farmers, and the youth.
Under martial law, two senators were singled out for imprisonment in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija: Ninoy Aquino and Jose “Pepe” Diokno. But even from their cells, these two men waged solitary but brave campaigns against the Marcos regime, igniting the spirit of resistance among our people. They were giants who highlighted the contrast between true patriots and the mean spirits of their captors. They never broke down, instead standing their ground to confront the architects of the dictatorial regime that had decimated a generation of the country’s future leaders.
Cut to today: In her fifth year of detention, Sen. Leila de Lima—former chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), former secretary of justice, and the lady senator from Bicol (what is it in the spicy “laing” they serve in that region that produces feisty women?) who garnered more than 14 million votes in the 2016 elections—remains jailed on spurious charges based on testimonies extracted from convicts.
While De Lima remains jailed, those who wished her ill have failed to break her spirit. They have not discouraged or deterred her from doing what she needs to do as a sitting senator of the land. For anyone who has been imprisoned, bereft of the company of family, friends, and colleagues, the experience of enforced detention can drain one’s stamina and dull one’s mind. But in Leila de Lima’s case, she continues to write from behind bars, producing “Dispatches from Crame” and “Fight for Freedom and Other Writings” and sharing her thoughts without fear.
It is an indictment of our justice system and the character of the leadership of the present regime that a sitting senator elected by the people is kept under lock and key, apparently because of the strong positions she had taken on issues such as EJKs. Her fiercely independent views have riled and threatened the pretenders to the throne, and she has suffered the indignity of imprisonment without benefit of the rights accorded our citizens by the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution: the presumption of innocence and the right to an impartial and fair trial.
I still recall the Leila de Lima I sat down with while she was chair of the CHR. We discussed the “Peace Vote” that we wanted to launch then as an advocacy to raise awareness on the importance of a just peace among the criteria for candidates aspiring for national office. De Lima is no doubt intelligent (a valedictorian and a bar topnotcher), but it was her enthusiasm and decisiveness that struck me during that unforgettable meeting years ago.
As we relive another September and recall that some 49 years ago our people were deprived of their freedoms and their rights, some forced to live under duress or in dread of their lives, it is good to resolve that there should be no more aberrations of justice that result in cases of injustice such as that suffered by Sen. Leila de Lima.
I have always believed that courage is a verb. Leila de Lima aptly demonstrates that belief—that courage can be contagious and can inspire others, particularly the next generation. Whatever else happens, she has already proven that courage can neither be locked up nor locked down.
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Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, and author of “Servant Leader: Leni Robredo” published by San Anselmo Press.
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