The vindication of Leila

This is the last part of a four-part series on the book entitled “Freedom Fighters and Other Writings” authored by Senator Leila de Lima.

Part III, subtitled “Standing by My Innocence,” is a collection of articles by selected columnists and opinion makers who expressed their steadfast belief in the innocence of the beleaguered senator. Included in this selection are articles that appeared in various publications by respected economist Solita Collas-Monsod, columnists John Nery and Vergel Santos, Law Professor Mel Sta. Maria, blogger Candy Cruz Datu, and yours truly.

In her opinion piece “Beyond Hyperbole,” Solita Monsod wrote that the best example of President Duterte’s penchant for “exaggerated statements,” which his subordinates dismiss not as a lie but merely as hyperbole, are actually beyond hyperbole in the case of Leila de Lima. That Duterte made avowals to high heavens during the campaign that he is not vindictive and will always obey the rule of law is again “beyond” hyperbole because, according to Monsod, the real reason is really to vindicate the “affront” made by the senator who had the effrontery to investigate him when as mayor of Davao he was being implicated in incidents of extrajudicial killings in his bailiwick.

Impelled by no other reason than his vindictiveness, he excoriated the senator early on in his presidency, pronounced her guilt of complicity in the trade of illegal drugs. His vindictiveness is such that it rubbed off to his justice secretary. She was accused of the wrong crime and arrested by a court without jurisdiction, Monsod added. Moreover, the witnesses against her are not even qualified to testify as most of them are convicted criminals.

Not contented with the incredulous charges and violations of her rights, the vindictiveness and violations of the rule of law continue even in her detention since many visitors including foreigners were not allowed to see her. Worse, all the materials that go to her are subject to unreasonable censorship. As a final thought, Monsod asked: what has she done to deserve this? If it can be done to her then it can be done to any of us.

John Nery in his column “Justice for Leila is Justice for All” published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer recalled how the President recounted in one of his chit chats that as a prosecutor disclosed they planted evidence. Now as president, Nery opined, he has leveled up, the entire prosecution service and the Office of the Solicitor General can now engineer patently illegal maneuver to ensure the indefinite detention of a political adversary. It is in fact a matter of public record that De Lima was accused of trading in and profiting from illegal drugs; the entire rigmarole at the House of Representatives was designed to make this case in the court of public opinion. The Department of Justice subsequently charged her with this violation, he narrated. But not a single gram of the illegal drugs she was supposed to have traded in or profited from could be produced, Nery asserted. Finally, he sympathizes with De Lima; stands with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno; will defend Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ undoubted integrity. They and others like them make the rule of law possible; Calida and Aguirre, and Mr. Duterte, make the rule of law necessary.

To Vergel Santos, the case against Senator Leila de Lima is an abnormal one—abnormal in the way it was put together, abnormal in the way it’s been proceeding: It was initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte, it was cooked in his Congress, and it’s now being prosecuted by his solicitor general in an ordinary court, not by the tenured, thus presumed more independent, Ombudsman in the court precisely designated to try state officials—the Sandiganbayan. He expressed his strong belief that President Duterte strong-armed De Lima into jail. She went in, without the benefit of bail, on a charge of conspiracy to sell illegal drugs on the 8th month of his presidency. The supposedly solid evidence presented against her consisted mostly of testimonies of life-term convicts herded by Duterte’s justice secretary, himself the penitentiary’s chief bastonero; there was no money, no drugs, nothing concrete, let alone solid.

Santos said that a sycophantic Congress brushed aside the damning testimonies of Edgar Matobato and Arthur Lascañas, confessed killers, and Duterte’s revelation that he is accountable for eight more deaths. Instead, the investigation caused De Lima’s chairmanship of the justice committee. Worse, her petition to quash the cases against her was denied by the Supreme Court which also authored the release of Enrile from detention, acquitted Arroyo and approving a heroes burial to Marcos—all have made the brand of justice in the Duterte presidency abnormal.

For his part, Mel Sta. Maria pondered: Why is the case of Senator Leila de Lima such an extraordinary case? It is because, he explained, in a little over one year from the assumption of the Duterte administration, no less than the three great branches of government have converged to pin her down and, to some observers, bully or persecute her. This is unprecedented. We saw how the Executive department gathered the felons and the convicted drug lords to testify against her. Then we witnessed many in Congress totally besmirch her dignity using these convicted felons/drug lords.

Blogger Candy Cruz Datu, daughter of Dean Isagani A. Cruz, narrated how she first met the senator during her formative years, then a law student of the esteemed Dean Cruz in San Beda College of Law. Datu never believed on the guilt of the senator, saying: “I observed her formative years as a lawyer under my Dad’s tutelage. I assure you, Justice Cruz did not suffer hypocrites, nor the mediocre, nor the morally infirm. Her passion for justice matched his, and I suspect that his partiality for libertarian principles tutored her own commitment to human rights. Her career is prima facie evidence of this.” To say otherwise is to be ridiculous, Datu concluded.

Finally, the book also features an opinion piece I wrote in the Manila Standard on Oct. 17, 2017 where I presented and expressed agreement to the main arguments of Justice Leonen in his strong dissent to the majority opinion on the case of Senator Leila de Lima.

I will say this and write it in stone: Leila de Lima will be vindicated. Those who unjustly persecuted her will be held accountable.

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Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Leila de Lima , Candy Cruz Datu , Solita Collas-Monsod , John Nerym , Vergel Santos , Mel Sta. Maria
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