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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fighting for our freedom

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More than a year in detention on drug charges which she decries as political persecution by the Duterte administration, Senator Leila de Lima, who vowed never to be silenced, has once again spoken out, this time through a collection of writings and letters by her, some opinion makers, friends and colleagues essaying her continued struggle to seek justice and freedom amidst persecution and blatant violation of her rights.

Titled “Fight for Freedom and other Writings,” the book captures the common thread of the writings which is the fight of the Senator for justice and freedom not only for herself but for the multitude of human rights victims.

Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, who delivered the foreword, noted: As it stands, this collection sends a clear message: If injustice could be done to Leila, a sitting senator, injustice could be done to anyone. One is therefore challenged to make a personal inquiry: What could I do? And if I have done something, is it enough? Noynoy then quotes his father, the late Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, who once said: “If you allow the rights of others to be violated, you are setting up the condition for your own rights to be violated.” He then expresses hope that “when the time comes, our people. Cognizant of this undeniable and enduring truth, will do what is right.”

The collection of writings, essays and speeches is divided into five (v) parts, namely:

Part 1, “From My Desk” are random thoughts and reflections by the author in detention. It also contains her acceptance speech during the awarding ceremony of the Liberal International Prize for Freedom held July 28. 2018. A few writings extol the value of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which she sees as a beacon of light in times of rampant human right violations by oppressive regimes. In this essay, the author narrates her plight as a detainee and victim of political persecution. De Lima sees human rights fighters as lighthouses and watchtowers. In her own words, those “who call out warnings that a destructive force is bearing down upon us. We are always on the alert so that people can afford to live their lives being secure in the knowledge that watchdogs like us are ever alert and ever willing to risk ourselves just to sound the alarm when it becomes necessary.”

Part II, “Freedom Fighters” contains the speeches by Hon. Emily Lau, former member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and (Liberal International (LI) President Dr. Juli Minoves delivered during the awarding ceremony of the Liberal International Prize for Freedom. Included is the inspirational speech by Vice President Leni Robredo in the same ceremony.

Part III, “Standing by My Innocence” contains the published writings by several opinion-makers who continue to support the Senator in her trials and believe in her innocence. Some illustrious names who have expressed that the charges against Senator De Lima are fabricated are economist Solita Monsod, Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria, John Nery, Vergel Santos, blogger Candy Cruz Datu, Rina Jimenez-David and a number of columnists, and yours truly (although I do not consider myself illustrious at all).

Part IV, “Voices of Hope” includes a selection of handwritten notes of support from guests- among them friends, dignitaries, colleagues in government- who were present during the awarding ceremony of the Liberal International Prize for Freedom.

Part V, “Truth be Told” is De Lima’s Motion for Reconsideration (MR) fled by her legal team with the Supreme SC, voting 9-5, in April 2018). The MR was eventually denied by the Court (SC) last November 3, 2017, on the Court’s dismissal of the petition to recall the arrest warrant issued against the Senator for drug charges. Here the author gives a time line of events” leading to her incarceration which she dubs “Timeline of Political Persecution and Injustice.”

The release of De Lima’s book, during her birthday celebration last week, is timely. First, Senator Leila is a true heroine of the country, with faults for sure, and we just celebrated National Heroes’ Day. Moreover, now that September is here, more than an inauguration of the season of Jose Mari Chan, this is the month when we recall the US-Marcos dictatorship—a very bad moment of our history when human rights was trampled upon and our democracy was in hibernation.

We are at a similar moment again. Opposition voices like De Lima are being silenced; critical and independent voices like Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have also been suppressed. Whole cities, and along with them their officials and citizens, like Iloilo, Naga, and Cebu have been attacked. Corruption that has caused the rice crisis is being defended. And above all, tens of thousands of poor Filipinos have been killed in a failing war against drugs.

On Sept. 21, the Unified People’s Action will be held in Luneta. The call will be loud and clear: never again a dictatorship, never again a regime like Marcos.

Senator De Lima, who deserves the Nobel peace prize for her courage and heroism, echoes this call. In fighting for her freedom, she is fighting for ours.

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