Cupcakes and roses for De Lima
“Leave me alone,” said Sen. Leila de Lima when asked what her birthday wish was. She had just blown out the candle on a box of cupcakes, while surrounded by dozens of red and dark pink roses, during an “asalto” to mark her upcoming birth anniversary.
The gathering of women, all of them signatories to a statement by “concerned Filipino women,” was meant to demonstrate in word and deed women’s support for the senator in the face of deeply offensive and indeed misogynist attacks on her person, while assailing the Duterte administration’s assault on the democratic principle of checks and balances.
So indeed, her birthday wish wasn’t the senator’s intention to pose as a contemporary version of the reclusive Greta Garbo. Rather, it was a plea for the President and his minions to leave her to do her job as an elected senator of the land, including the right—nay, the duty—to conduct oversight investigations on actions carried out by the Executive, a coequal branch of government.
The statement of support was signed by initially 15 women, but has now found nearly 300 adherents, gathering women from various sectors—the urban poor, academe, business, civil society, and professionals. It’s safe to say that the women were reacting not merely to the arrogant insistence of the President and his inner circle that their “war on drugs” be exempt from any investigation or criticism.
Perhaps cutting even more deeply was Duterte’s use of innuendo and sexist double standards to shame and condemn a woman in the public eye for “sins” or indiscretions she may have committed in private. To quote the statement, by “[impugning] a woman’s character by the same actions that would otherwise elevate a man’s status in society, and to apply a different standard of morality on a female senator’s alleged extramarital relations from that of a President’s well-known dalliances, [the President allowed a woman] to be boxed in by gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes.”
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Among the women who called on De Lima was her predecessor as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Etta Rosales, who presented the senator with a “matrix” (a buzzword in these times) illustrating a “rights-based approach” to solving the drug problem. She planned to submit the matrix, said Rosales, to the Senate committee on justice and human rights. Studying the multicolored matrix, De Lima smilingly remarked that it looked far more professionally done, using “correct grammar,” compared to the matrix that, Duterte claimed, “proved” the senator’s links to drug lords, even if it looked like a hastily prepared high school project.
Later, Rosales produced “another matrix” for De Lima’s enjoyment: a meme or social media post showing the senator’s visage on a movie poster for the film “Matrix.” She looked quite intimidating, to be honest, clad in the long black raincoat worn by Keanu Reeves in the film.
In her response to her well-wishers, De Lima expressed her gratitude to all who had gifted her with “positive energy and positive vibes” on her birth anniversary. “I shall remain steadfast [in my work as a senator],” she assured everyone. And if her tormentors “think they can dampen my resolve, they’re dead wrong.”
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Notable among the women who called on De Lima that day were former members of the Cabinet: former peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles, former Civil Service Commission chair Karina Constantino David, and former tourism secretary Narz Lim; feminist activists Aida Santos and Carol Sobritchea; peace advocate Karen Tañada; Nina Somera, Hazel Suba, and Hilda Narciso, a survivor of Marcos-era human rights abuses and a petitioner against the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Other petitioners were likewise present.
Rosales also gave De Lima a poem written by activist Mila Aguilar titled “Ang Saga ni Leila (Leila’s Saga),” which seems self-explanatory. Though they were not available for De Lima’s “asalto,” Imelda Nicolas and Annie Serrano were the “mothers” who birthed the idea to circulate the statement of support. Indeed, the “saga of De Lima” is a story worth telling and following. Not only because it’s only early days for the Duterte administration and his shockingly vicious and personal attack on the senator is a telling sign of harsher times to follow. It is also worth tracking because the saga is also the harrowing story of all Filipino women, who have endured centuries of oppression and exclusion at the hands of men who think nothing of ridiculing us for “sins” they themselves commit with impunity.
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Aware, or the Alliance of Women for Action Towards Reform, has also issued their own statement in support of De Lima.
The senator, the statement says, is “an upright and dedicated government official who has served the people with integrity and courage.” The group called on the President and his Cabinet members, as well as the Philippine National Police chief, “to observe the rule of law; to give drug addicts the chance to rehabilitate their lives; to give them their day in court; and not to summarily execute them.” By fostering the “culture of death,” the women of Aware said, “vigilantism is on the rise, and criminals have found safe haven in the impunity offered by the President.”
The statement encourages De Lima and “all other freedom-loving senators and Congress representatives as well as all Filipinos” to speak out against what it describes as “the slaughter of our people.” The “menace of drugs will not be ended by bullets,” the women add. Instead, “we need to educate our youth; engage them in programs that challenge their minds and spirits; rehabilitate them when they fall into temptation; and when treated, bring them back into our fold.”
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