Sen. Leila de Lima maintains her innocence after eight months in detention, and said she would continue to fight the Duterte administration despite the trumped-up drug trafficking charges against her.

The Varsitarian spoke exclusively to the detained former human rights lawyer in September to hear her side of the story.

“I cry at night because of what [the administration is] doing to me. I am innocent. Drug trafficking charges filed against me were fabricated [and] based on an orchestrated lie,” de Lima said.

‘Personal vendetta’

De Lima claimed that her imprisonment was Duterte’s “personal vendetta” for investigations she had led as Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairwoman.

Duterte had been accused for leading the vigilante group called the “Davao Death Squad” or DDS, when he was Davao City mayor.

“What [Duterte] wants is personal vendetta. He hates me to the core,” she said. “During [the] public inquiry [into the DDS] in March 2009, [Duterte] was raising his voice when I was raising my voice. He was defending [the killings] and he has not forgiven me.”

CHR found in 2009 that the DDS killed 206 people, and 107 of them were involved in illegal activities. Some were victims of mistaken identity.

Duterte lashed out at de Lima in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 24, questioning the senator’s morality.

“You show importance to de Lima. [But] you were all here. You heard the witnesses. You saw the video. Is she a credible woman? Can she be a moral person?” Duterte said in his second SONA.

De Lima said: “[Duterte’s SONA] is embarrassing to the international community.”

The senator was arrested in February on charges that she accepted money from drug syndicates when she was justice secretary in the Aquino administration.

The witnesses against here are mostly convicts at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.

Last Oct. 10, the Supreme Court, voting 9-6, dismissed de Lima’s petition to dismiss the charges against her, and ordered her trial to proceed.

De Lima had argued that she could not be tried by regular courts. Being a senator, she said, she should instead be charged before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

The senator’s camp is appealing the ruling.


De Lima said Duterte’s drug war – which had claimed the lives of 13,000 people according to human rights groups – had only victimized the poor.

“What kind of drug war is this if it only points out the poor? […]There are a lot more big-time drug lords like the Chinese,” she said.

“It takes years before justice will fall unto these killings. However, the strategy of government [is to] downplay figures of deaths,” de Lima added.

The detained senator also criticized Duterte’s claim on Aug. 30 that prisoners “have lost the essence of a person.”

“I think what Duterte is really saying, there is no hope for prisoners’ rehabilitation because he is too lazy to do his job [and it] takes more brains, patience, empathy and effort than simply loading and firing a gun,” de Lima said.

“His idea of improving the sufferings of the poor and the defenseless is to downgrade them from the status of being part of humanity and to eliminate them,” she added.

De Lima urged Filipinos to rise against the culture of death and impunity.

“We are not in control of our destiny [but] the tide has started and it will keep on turning.   [Filipinos] must come out of their shell to stop fear and apathy,” de Lima said. with reports from Mia Arra C. Camacho


To investigate and expose unspoken issues and anomalies, send confidential news tips to the Special Reports team of the Varsitarian at or at THE VARSITARIAN office, Rm. 105, Tan Yan Kee Student Center, University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila.


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