Philippine Senator Leila De Lima: Two Years in Detention for Defending Human Rights

Senator De Lima has been targeted in what can only be characterized as partisan persecution.

Incumbent Philippine Senator Leila M. De Lima is one of the world’s foremost human rights defenders. As former Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (2008-2010), Philippine Secretary of Justice (2010-2015), and now incumbent Senator of the Republic of the Philippines (2016-present) she has and continues to vigorously protect and promote a just rule of law.

In 2009, she investigated the alleged involvement of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who was then Davao City Mayor, in the so-called Davao Death Squad that was said to be responsible for the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of people; as Secretary of Justice, she uncovered a system of corruption and criminality that exposed drug lords and put a former President and three Senators behind bars; and later, as the new Chairperson of the Senate’s Committee on Justice and Human Rights and against a background of mounting deaths that accompanied President Duterte’s “war on drugs”, she convened hearings on extrajudicial killings in the hopes of shedding light on what made alarms sound the world over.

But for her courageous defence of the rule of law, Senator De Lima was vilified and demonized in a ‘trial by publicity’ intended to justify an arrest warrant — based primarily on testimony given by drug lord convicts she helped expose — purposed with silencing her in solitude.

Since her prompt and peaceful surrender to authorities, Senator De Lima has been arbitrarily detained in conditions and circumstances that restrict her capacity to discharge her mandate as incumbent Senator. This is exactly what Duterte intended. Despite his best efforts, however, Senator De Lima has not relented, authoring or co-authoring, as of 4 February 2019, 142 bills and 145 proposed resolutions, out of which 113 and 122 respectively were filed in detention.

Indeed, even though, as an Opinion adopted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declares, “[Senator] De Lima’s deprivation of liberty resulted from her personal conviction and public statements regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines,” she continues to speak truth to power and hold power accountable to truth.

President Duterte’s crackdown on dissent and democracy continues unabated nonetheless. He employed the same tactics used on Senator De Lima to invalidate the appointment of prospective Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and more recently to target journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

Senator De Lima’s case and cause, in more ways than one, serves as a looking glass into Duterte’s repressive and increasingly authoritarian regime. Likewise, by standing with Senator De Lima we stand with the Filipino people, for everyday she languishes in jail Philippine democracy is further undermined.

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