AFTER eight months in detention, Sen. Leila de Lima maintains her innocence on the drug-trafficking charges against her, saying all the allegations were fabricated by a vengeful Duterte administration.
The Supreme Court denied de Lima’s plea to drop the charges in a 9-6 decision last Oct. 10, a legal setback to the senator who has been detained at the custodial center of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame, Quezon City since February.
The Varsitarian interviewed the former human rights lawyer and Justice secretary last September to get an idea of her daily life in detention as well as her views about issues facing the country. Here are excerpts:
Q: How are you doing in your stay at the custodial center in Camp Crame?
Sen. Leila de Lima: Minus the isolation, minus the unjust detention, I am okay. I am treated well, [there is] no maltreating. [The guards here] respect my status as an incumbent senator. I make myself busy [by] walking regularly in this compound. I do cleaning such as sweeping [and] I feed stray cats.
Every Sunday we hold the Mass with family and relatives. It is officiated by [activist-priest] Fr. Robert Reyes, Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J. and Fr. Flavie Villanueva, S.V.D. [Para akong] nasa retreat, [there is] more time to pray. I have never been prayerful until now. I read the bible [and] everyday [I] feel closer to the Lord. That’s the positive side. I read a lot of books [that are] spiritual, moral and political.
Sen. Leila de Lima: I am sad because I am not there personally in the debates during committee hearings about the P6.4-billion [shabu smuggling] scandal, the [killing of] Kian de los Santos, barangay elections and other upcoming issues like federalism and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
I will continue to pray that the Supreme Court will decide my fate.
Q: How are you keeping up with the news?
Sen. Leila de Lima: If [I have no] television and radio, I read the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star newspapers.
[I have a] media and communications daily pouch [which has] issues of the day, messages of support, and reactions [to my] dispatches [posted on] social media [that is] transcribed by my staff.
Q: What books do you read?
Sen. Leila de Lima: [I read] John Grisham books and Game of Thrones (GoT). I [am] a big GoT fan [and someone gave me] a whole set of the books. I am enjoying it. I read three to four books at the same time in one day.
Former President Beningno Simeon Aquino III gave me the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, it is a thick book on the accounts of Adolf Hitler.
Q: How is your family keeping up with your situation?
Sen. Leila de Lima: I was psychologically prepared several weeks [before] they filed the cases. Imagine, drug trafficking filed against me? I prepared my family so that’s what happened and to not make things difficult. I miss my normal life and my family regularly.
My mom is now 85 years old. She does not know I’ve been here [in detention] because it might affect her so much. I told her that I am [having an] extended study in the US. Almost six months na ako dito [but I think] she’s sensed something is not right.
Q: How do you rate President Rodrigo Duterte’s performance?
Sen. Leila de Lima: He’s lying about my alleged drug trades during the campaign period and my [involvement in the] shabu lab in the New Bilibid Prison.
[Duterte is the] worst President [that] the country had. He only fulfilled two of his promises, which are the killings and putting me in jail. There is looming authoritarianism, [which] would show he’s naturally a dictator.
[Duterte] ruined the accomplishments of the arbitral external counsels [during the West Philippine Sea dispute] before the arbitral tribunal, and the monumental victory (in 2016 against China) we earned and respected.
The era of this administration is the proliferation of fake news and propaganda. [To] Mocha Uson and Martin Andanar, I may be biased but I’m sure of what I say, that this President is the worst President. He is full of embarrassment, just look at all his cussing to the international leaders including the Pope.
Q: As the former Justice secretary, how do you assess the performance of Justice Secretary Vitialiano Aguirre?
Sen. Leila de Lima: He likes to create deceptions. He is full of fake news…He loves to invent stories without verification. He is so reckless and unethical, a lawyer who is so misogynistic.
It’s in [their] psychology that to win, women must be treated as inferior, but I will not have it.
Q: Can you assess the performance of Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa in the drug war?
Sen. Leila de Lima: He is like Aguirre, a die-hard loyalist to the President. As a person, he is a good man and a nice guy. [But] he’s not cut out for the job. To be in an institution you need to have a high sense of professionalism and integrity and high level of competence.
He is loyal to the President. He knows the pattern of killings of the Davao Death Squad. I am not impressed of his loyalty to the President. I am okay with personal loyalty but it should be subservient to the higher cause and the Constitution’s rule of law and human rights.
Q: Do you think these killings will end?
Sen. Leila de Lima: You can never tell. We are not in control of our destiny. The tide has started turning and it will keep on turning. They (Filipinos) must come out of their shell to stop fear, apathy. I was shamed, exposed and charged with cases. I was made this example of the President for all others who opposed him. There is hope, there is always hope. I entrust my faith to the Lord. I do my share issuing dispatches, accepting interviews to express my views and perspectives. I’m functioning in a limited manner.
Q: How can you urge Thomasians and the youth to realize the importance of human rights amid the killings linked to the government’s drug war?
Sen. Leila de Lima: The more important thing to ponder is this: does the government have the power to control our mind and our values? Does it have the right to enter our minds and hearts and tell us that human lives should expect no protection? I think those in government who downplay human rights, are overstating and even misstating its role in our lives. It’s an act of manipulation, a game of bluff. They want to rule, not govern, and they are trying to see how far they can fool us.
Remember, we are not creatures of the State. We are not the pawns of politicians. We are not subjects of a king. We created the State. We are the State. We are the sovereign, not the subjects.
Q: What word of advice can you give to those who are dreaming of becoming lawmakers someday?
Sen. Leila de Lima: Treat it as a calling, a vocation, not a business venture. And that goes for everyone who enters public service. If you go into it wanting to become rich and powerful, you are in it for the wrong reasons, and that path only leads to loss, everyone’s loss. Just don‘t allow yourself to go down that road.
Q: After the approval of the death penalty bill in the House, the UST administration and others condemned its passage. What message can you deliver to the UST administration, faculty and its students?
Sen. Leila de Lima: Keep it up. I know that standing up against death penalty jives perfectly with the three core Thomasian values that the University promotes, namely, competence, compassion and commitment. Particularly compassion, for obvious reasons. There can be no justice in a society that does not know the value of charity and mercy. Especially in a legal system that is far from infallible and a society that has yet to achieve its goal of equality, social progress, and total human liberation and development and, thus, does not have the competence to mete out the harshest of penalties. Hold on to your convictions and commitment to the pursuit of truth and to service to the community.
*To investigate and expose unspoken issues and anomalies, send news tips to the Special Reports team of the Varsitarian at servallosney@ gmail.com or at The Varsitarian office, Rm. 105, Tan Yan Kee Student Center, University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila.