De Lima: ‘As long as the President is in Malacañang…I think I will remain in jail’

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Photo by Neil Jayson S. Servallos

AFTER a year in detention, Sen. Leila de Lima has grown certain that she would not be released anytime soon, as long as President Rodrigo Duterte is in power.

“One thing’s for sure—as long as the President is in Malacañang, as long as [he] stays the President, as long as he’s alive, I think I will remain in jail. He will make sure of that. It will be a huge slap in his face if I’m released,” she told the Varsitarian.

De Lima was arrested on Feb. 24 last year for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison during her time as justice secretary in the Aquino administration.

De Lima said she had learned to settle with living a life of solitude. “I’m all alone from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. but naka-adjust na ako… I’ve learned to live with the isolation and sense of solitude,” she said.

But the senator noted that detention did not stop her from drafting laws. She was able to file 40 bills and 58 resolutions while in detention at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame.

De Lima refuses to be silenced by the administration that “locked” her up. “I feel bad about it because I was voted by more than 14 million people,” she said.

When she was head of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human rights in 2016, de Lima led the investigation into extrajudicial killings involving the “Davao Death Squad,” a group of alleged hitmen in Davao City.

She first investigated the case in 2009 as Commission on Human Rights chief. At the Senate, de Lima presented self-confessed death squad member Edgar Matobato, who called the President a “murderer.”

Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., who has led the Eucharistic celebrations at de Lima’s detention quarters for the past 12 months, said the senator never showed regret for exposing Duterte’s activities as Davao City mayor.

“After vetting this self-confessed member of the Davao Death Squad, Sen. Leila placed her destiny on this struggle to quell the killings by the force of truth of conversion [and] she has no regrets,” he said.

‘False charges’

The senator lashed out at the Department of Justice for changing the complaint filed against her, saying it was a testament to the falsity of the charges.

De Lima was originally charged with drug trading, but over the past months, the charges were changed to conspiracy to commit drug trading, she said.

“That proves the falsity of charges—pabago-bago,” de Lima said. “They don’t have physical evidence. Nahirapan silang i-prove ‘yun kaya they changed it.”

Looming dictatorship?

De Lima warned against the looming threat to the country’s democracy amid the shakedown of opposition forces, the human rights commission and the press.

In a speech last Feb. 7, Duterte threatened to take up a dictatorial style of leadership to attain change in the country, on top of his plan to shift to a federal system of government though constitutional changes.

De Lima denounced Duterte’s plan to “tinker” with the Constitution, saying the change would only benefit abusive leaders with “no vision.”

“What we have are sycophants, abusive leaders [who are] abusive in language and behavior. The push for federalism empowers political dynasties. They push for federalism to perpetuate themselves,” she said.

While the press still enjoys its freedom, media critical of Duterte’s administration should watch out. “What they did to Rappler has a chilling effect,” she said.

Last Jan. 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission scrapped Rappler’s corporate papers for violating foreign ownership restrictions.

Rappler reporter Pia Ranada was barred from entering the Malacañang Complex on Feb. 21, two days after Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go appeared before the Senate to answer questions related to a Rappler report that claimed he intervened in the selection process for the combat management system of Philippine Navy frigates.

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