Today, Senator Leila De Lima will mark her second year in detention. A detention that both Philippine and foreign legal experts, as well as various international institutions, have characterized as “politically motivated” and “arbitrary.” These include, most recently, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst, as well as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
That a Senator of the Republic, an outspoken critic of the administration, and a relentless crusader against extrajudicial killings, can languish in detention for two years on drug charges, despite the glaring absence of physical evidence, and on the mere say-so of convicted drug dealers currently serving prison sentences in the national penitentiary, is a sad commentary of the state of our justice system today. It both captures and mirrors the frustration of thousands of Filipinos, particularly those bereft of wealth or privilege, whose lives, freedom, and meager fortunes are ground down by a justice system that turns both slowly and erratically, and whose obscure movements seem only too pliant to those with power.
Our call today, therefore, must be both “Justice for Leila,” as well as “Justice for the Filipino.” Both have fallen victim to a legal system that is, at times, seemingly no longer governed by firm rules and impartial magistrates, but one that appears alarmingly susceptible to political and economic influence. In the end, this is the bigger challenge that we must address, not just for Senator Leila, but for our people.
In the meantime, my prayers and best wishes go to my friend and fellow Bicolana, Leila. Your strength and dauntless courage in the face of these personal trials are an inspiration to us all. They may do all in their power to keep you in prison, but your indomitable spirit shall ever be free.
Stay strong. I have no doubt, the day will come soon, when you will walk under free skies, head held high in vindication, to the thanks of all those you sacrificed your own freedom for.
An laban mo, laban kan lambang Pilipino.