Leila de Lima marks 6 long years in detention: ‘I will soldier on’, ‘my vindication is at hand’
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By: Beatrice Pinlac – @inquirerdotnet
INQUIRER.net / 10:23 AM February 24, 2023
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MANILA, Philippines — Six years after being unlawfully detained in Camp Crame in Quezon City, former senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars due to politically motivated drug charges, which she denies to this day. Despite the injustice, De Lima continues to speak out against ex-President Rodrigo Duterte, her unwavering commitment to the truth evident in her ongoing fight for freedom.
De Lima’s time in police custody was not only difficult but incredibly formative. In her own words, these six years were the most important of her life, as they were spent “fighting the good fight.”
Drawing inspiration from Martin Luther King’s words, de Lima determined to keep going no matter what challenges she faced. Motivated by the thought of, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward,” de Lima forged ahead, resolved to never give up.
She believed she has proven to her detractors, who expect her to lose ground under pressure, that her commitment to the rule of law and human rights “is stronger than any wall they can put between me and the outside world.”
“That is exactly what I intend to do. I will soldier on,” de Lima said in a statement Friday, pointing to King’s dictum.
De Lima voluntarily submitted to the authorities on February 24, 2017, after being charged with allegedly taking part in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison – the main penitentiary managed by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
De Lima had served as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She was also the DOJ secretary during the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino before being elected senator in May 2016.
READ: After awaiting arrest at Senate, De Lima turns self in to CIDG
Six years later, de Lima still “strongly” believed she would be vindicated.
“Today, after six years, I am still fighting for my own innocence and for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings and the families they left behind. Today, more than ever, I am convinced that I did the right thing [by] sacrificing my personal liberty and even my political career,” she said.
READ: De Lima team counting on bail granted ‘in 2 months’
“I strongly believe that my vindication is at hand. But even if they continue to try to silence me, I refuse to cower. I will stand my ground. For when they come after me and try to silence me, they are actually coming after those who cannot speak for themselves and defend themselves. I cannot, in good conscience, let that happen,” she also said.
Local and international legislators, organizations, and human rights advocates have collectively raised their voices to demand that the Philippine government grant de Lima her freedom. After the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 205 dismissed one of the three cases lodged against her due to lack of evidence, the collective outcry for de Lima’s release has grown even louder, especially as the end of President Duterte’s six-year term draws near.
Also, the government’s witnesses have recanted their testimonies against de Lima one by one.
READ: DOJ blocks own witness who has cleared De Lima
Specifically, three key prosecution witnesses – confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, and her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan – took back everything they said against de Lima, all claiming they had been coerced to issue their testimonies pinning the former senator to the drug trade.
The De Lima dilemma: how will the three branches of gov’t resolve the case?
Leila de Lima after six years in prison
DOJ won’t stand in the way of de Lima seeking release via habeas corpus – Remulla