Is Senator De Lima’s cry for political persecution justified?

Senator Leila De Lima has been vilified by the Duterte administration even before she took office. Since then, she has continued speaking out against Duterte and his policies to a point that she has already become the prime target.

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), along with former officials of the NBI, have formally filed a case against De Lima, accusing her of benefitting from the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison while she was still the Secretary of Justice.

Since this issue came out, she has denied all allegations, trying to clear herself up. Not only was this the only accusation hurled against her, she was also accused by Duterte of being immoral for having a “propensity for sex.” There was even a time when the Congress brought up the idea of playing the said video only to be withdrawn due to the strong statements by the women members.

President Duterte and Senator De Lima continued their tirades against one another, with Duterte accusing De Lima of being a drug lord while De Lima pulling Duterte down for masterminding the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

While Duterte is immune from being sued, De Lima isn’t. Three criminal cases against De Lima were filed at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court. After hearing about it, she has already prepared for the inevitability of the release of the arrest warrant. At the same time, she has continued her cry for political persecution.

Given the accusations thrown against her (which seems to be true if we are to listen to former drug lords who testified in Congress), does she have the right to say that she is being politically persecuted?

How did it start?

Even before Duterte won the presidency and De Lima becoming a member of the Senate, these two have a history of hatred against each other. There was a time when Duterte called her “gaga”, and that was just one of the many insults he has thrown towards her.

According to De Lima, the President is just being vengeful. Under the Arroyo administration, De Lima was tasked to head the Commission on Human Rights. Then Davao City Mayor Duterte, has become one of De Lima’s prime investigation targets. She recalled how Duterte was really angry with the investigation.

There was a spotlight on the issue again when Duterte ran for the presidency. The DDS issues were brought up during the campaign, and this irked Duterte even more. When he rose to power after winning the elections, he has seen the opportunity to get back to De Lima.

Now that he has a lot on his disposal, Duterte tried pinning down De Lima on so many levels. Having found her new voice as a senator, De Lima didn’t surrender in fighting back. At the start of the new congress, she was appointed to head of the Justice Committee where she has initiated investigations on the extra-judicial killings taking place due to Duterte’s war on drugs policy. Holding the senate majority, there was a move to oust her as chair and was replaced by Sen. Dick Gordon.

She has still continued her fight to expose the Duterte administration while the Department of Justice continues to gather evidence to pin her down.

The bigger picture

At this point, it is difficult to determine who really is telling the truth. De Lima seems to have witnesses who can corroborate on his accusations against Duterte, especially with the recent confession of SPO3 Arturo Lascanas.

On the other hand, the convicted drug lords brought by Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre in the senate seemed to be very certain that De Lima was the mastermind of drug trade in Bilibid. Even her former driver slash lover, Ronnie Dayan, turned his back on her.

Let’s assume for a moment that Duterte was right in focusing on De Lima and that she really is guilty. Perhaps, if it happens, we can say that he has done a great job in serving justice to a major drug lord.

On the other hand, if De Lima is proven to be right, what does it say about our government? Not only is she justified when saying she is being politically persecuted, the entire Filipino people are also being played.

Each time a major expose is thrown against the government, they always go back to De Lima and make her the prime enemy. This is how they succeed in diverting the attention of the public. Instead of being alarmed with the record-breaking number of drug related killings since Duterte took office, we end up vilifying someone else.

Even if let’s say De Lima really shelled out illegal money that was used for her senate bid, can we safely say that justice was served by proving her guilty? The Bilibid drug trade has been going on for several decades now. De Lima wasn’t even a public figure when the trade started. Can we safely say that her arrest will finally put an end to this trade?

On the other hand, let us take a look at the case of Janet Napoles. She was already convicted of a serious crime, and is being prosecuted for colluding with public officials to get money from public coffers. Apparently, the country’s Solicitor General has decided to move for the dismissal of her case. Putting her in prison and forcing her to return what she has corrupted could have benefitted the Filipino people more. But no! This is not the priority of the Duterte administration. They would rather continue silencing De Lima instead of catching the bigger fish.

The country faces a lot more challenges and the government pouring out their entire energy to prosecute De Lima is definitely not the way to go. Apparently though, those who have strong cases of corruption in the past are now friends with the government. The Marcoses and Arroyos are now back in power even if there were strong cases against them.

Let’s just hope the wheels of justice continue moving towards the truth, albeit slowly, and those who have really done actual crimes will ultimately pay.

Image attribution: Photo of Senator Leila De Lima


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)