Leila de Lima just penned a New York Times op-ed while in detention

July 24, 2019 - 5:31 PM
Leila de Lima in 2017
Sen. Leila De Lima waves from a police van after appearing at a court on drug related charges in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, Philippines on Feb. 24, 2017. (Reuters/Erik De Castro)

She just keeps on writing. Detained Sen. Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration, was able to publish her thoughts to a global audience on the opinion page of the prestigious New York Times.

De Lima was not able to take part in the opening session of the 18th Congress, having been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Quezon City for three years now.

The opinion piece titled “President Duterte’s War on Drugs Is a Pretense” was published on July 22, the day the annual significant presidential speech was delivered.

She talked about how President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies handle political dissenters, particularly those who oppose his bloody war against drugs.

“I should know: I’m one of its victims. I am writing this essay from a prison cell in Camp Crame, the national Police Headquarters in Manila. I have spent the past two years here, after being arrested on fabricated drug-trafficking charges,” De Lima wrote.

De Lima was arrested in February 2017 over alleged bribery of imprisoned drug traffickers.

Despite being in detention, she remained active in issuing handwritten statements about her position on issues. These are released on her social media accounts.

While in jail, she reaped international recognition such as TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and Fortune’s 50 World Greatest Leaders.

De Lima’s essay

De Lima recalled that the charges came after she opened a Senate investigation into extrajudicial killings committed in the drug war.

“He once said, ‘I will have to destroy her in public.’ He has called me an ‘immoral woman,’ and in 2016 his allies claimed to possess a compromising sex video and threatened to show it to a congressional panel,” she said.

In 2017, De Lima made international headlines when she was ordered arrested over the charges attempting to link her to the narcotics trade. This drew condemnation from local and international rights organizations.

The former justice secretary also mentioned fellow lawmakers Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Rep. Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers party-list) and Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list) whom she said are victims of the president’s efforts to silence the opposition.

De Lima also expressed her thoughts on what she observed as other moves against those who would express dissent.

“Lawmakers who oppose the Duterte administration have seen budgets for their home districts slashed or sometimes been stripped of their membership on important select committees. The government has also manipulated the rules of procedure of the House of Representatives to ensure that the official minority bloc — which should be an important check on the executive — is mostly composed of pro-government lawmakers,” she said.

On the new set of mostly pro-administration senators, De Lima said the president’s allies now have more control to push forward Duterte’s legislative agenda, which includes the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Division in Congress

The end of the terms of Sens. Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino left only four lawmakers in the Senate opposition bloc, namely, De Lima, Francis Pangilinan, Hontiveros and Francis Drilon.

Meanwhile, they have only six counterparts in the House of Representatives who opted to remain part of the independent opposition—Rep. Isagani Amatong (Zamboanga del Norte), Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City), Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr. (Camarines Sur), Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong (Negros Oriental), Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) and Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay).

The rest of the members of Congress joined the majority bloc as well as the minority bloc dominated by Duterte’s allies and those who generally agree with his policies.