One of the biggest victims of the Duterte regime is Senator Leila de Lima, Justice secretary during the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III; not counting the tens of thousands of mostly poor young men who were summarily executed, of course.
But while the suspected drug users were killed in operations that were hidden from the public, the torment that De Lima has undergone for the past five years has been played out for all to see.
Her good name, reputation, and even her ability to perform her tasks as an elected senator have been ruined by Rodrigo Duterte and his top henchman, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who was himself forced to resign under questionable circumstances.
The charges against De Lima were obviously trumped up from the start, with the government’s witnesses mostly convicts imprisoned on drug charges. They had zero credibility but the Duterte regime insisted on using them as witnesses in the absence of more valid and credible ones.
Just about all the testimonies against the senator have been disregarded by the courts as based on hearsay and second hand information.
Duterte himself committed a horrible crime against De Lima when he claimed that she had appeared in a sex video, which was made public. The person in the video was clearly not De Lima, as she had only a passing resemblance to the lawmaker.
Unfortunately, it was her relationship with her driver/bodyguard that proved to be her Achilles heel, almost. Unlike other parts of the world where relationships between consenting adults is no big thing, the same cannot be said of the situation in the Philippines.
It was that unfortunate relationship that was used by the Duterte regime to further crush her spirits, after that driver/bodyguard was coerced to also testify against her. But he, too, eventually retracted his statements against the senator.
Duterte also announced to all that De Lima was guilty beyond reasonable doubt, which no right thinking lawyer would have done as her trials – she faced multiple drug related charges – had not even started.
The reason was clear. As Justice secretary, De Lima had called for an investigation of the numerous cases of summary executions of suspected criminals in his home turf of Davao City. As such, after being elected president Duterte wanted nothing more than to punish her using all the resources at his command.
Duterte ordered her incarcerated without bail, even as scores of legal experts both local and international pointed out that the president’s vindictive actions were highly irregular, illegal, and immoral.
Last week, two of the most important “witnesses” against De Lima retracted their statements implicating her in the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prisons.
One was self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, said to be one of the biggest distributor of shabu in the country. The other was a former head of the Bureau of Corrections, Rafael Ragos. Both said they had been pressured into implicating De Lima, with the latter pointing to Aguirre as the mastermind.
With only a few months left in his term, Duterte should no longer care what happens to De Lima.
Vice President Leni Robredo has already called for the release of De Lima, so if she becomes president freeing the senator will be one of the first things the new chief executive will do. There is also a chance that President Robredo will avail of the services of De Lima, who if memory serves is a lawyer/economist like her.
But if Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wins, he could very well find ways to keep her under arrest for six more years as a favor to his running mate, Sara Duterte. This would make the senator a valid political prisoner, which is no sweat off Junior’s brow, as he grew up believing that it was perfectly fine to imprison, torture, and even kill anyone who disagreed with his despicable father and mother. Sister, too.
This will make De Lima an even bigger martyr than she already is.
Sadly, De Lima may no longer be senator by next year. Most surveys indicate that her chances of being reelected are quite nil, which is a shame as she has much to offer as lawmaker. But her inability to campaign and take her case to the people means one less capable senator in the next Congress, replaced by the likes of – groan! – Raffy Tulfo and has-been action star Robin Padilla, who was previously imprisoned for illegal possession of unlicensed firearams. Not mere handguns, mind you, but assault weapons intended solely for military use.
To the every end of his term, she remains a victim of Rodrigo Duterte, who has again shown his misogyny by picking on the helpless opposition senator, whose situation is so unlike that of Antonio Trillanes III.
Duterte is deathly afraid of the former military officer, who may still have a substantial following within the Armed Forces of the Philippines and who has shown that he is willing to give as much as he can take, which is a lot.
Trillanes has a slightly better chance of returning to the Senate than De Lima, but his campaign has been hampered by a lack of funds, which holds true for most of the senate bets running under Leni Robredo.
It is sad to note that Leila de Lima’s quest for justice ultimately depends on who is elected president next week, not whether she is guilty or innocent based on the evidence presented to the courts.
As expected, the Duterte regime continues to insist that she is guilty based on the evidence gathered thus far. That evidence is mostly the testimonies from various personalities and little else. There is no smoking gun.
He may or may not have been joking, but Rodrigo Duterte said this week that he expects his followers to join him in hell when their time comes. That may be the only truth he has ever spoken since first running then being elected president.
As for Senator de Lima, she is living proof that it doesn’t pay to take your job too seriously after she tried to pin down a crooked mayor who has so much blood in his hands that he really does belong in hell.