"Senator Leila de Lima should not be in jail."
Tomorrow, Nov. 20, Senator Leila de Lima, would have been unjustly in jail for 1,000 days—that’s 24,000 hours or 1,440,000 if counted in minutes and 86,400,000 if we reckon her illegal detention in second. For the grossest injustice, a phrase I borrow from Justice Antonio Carpio, that’s one second too many.
In any criminal justice system, miscarriage of justice happens when an individual is punished for a crime he or she did not commit. Worse still is when miscarriage of justice is done deliberately, and in a gross and blatant manner—this type of injustice is what may be termed “travesty of justice.”
Thankfully, the world is morally convinced of her innocence. Human rights groups have been clamoring for her release and the dismissal of what mostly believe are trumped-up charges against her. Amnesty International regards De Lima as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” She topped Asian Correspondent's list of five prominent Southeast Asian leaders and human rights defenders who are facing charges for defying the norm. The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) cited her heroism against corruption and autocracy.
Since her detention, De Lima has been the recipient of numerous honors and recognition by local and foreign bodies—on one hand a testament of her innocence from the point of view of the world, but also an indictment of the system and personalities that continue to persecute her. That her arrest and detention is tainted with injustice has been decried by Justice Leonen in his dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court majority decision upholding the warrant of arrest, saying that “it reflected a failure of the prevalence of good justice x x x it unsettles established doctrine, misapplies unrelated canons, and most importantly, fails to render a good judgement: law deployed with sound reasons taking the full context of the case as presented.”
The number one thousand (1,000) in the bible often symbolizes an “immensity or fullness of quantity.” Surely, a thousand days in prison is a lifetime, more so when one is unjustly deprived of liberty. One can only imagine the psychological and emotional pain that a victim of injustice goes through. But in the context of the Holy Scripture, one thousand also means “the perfection of the life.” Believe it or not, prolonged days of solitude and silence, even in the direst of conditions, may have some benefits. It can be viewed as an opportunity to reinvigorate one’s spiritual life, to listen more intently to God’s whisperings which we often do not hear amid the din of this world.
The Lord himself on many occasions sought the silence and solitude of the desert and in every opportunity he got during his earthly ministry. And for centuries, untold number of Christian men and women purposely choose the solitude of the desert, living in monasteries and convents, to seek perfection of life in Christ. Visiting Senator Leila in her prison cell a few months ago during her birthday, I could not help but sense that she is at peace. She is not destroyed at all; in fact, she is stronger. That is why she continues to speak out against the Duterte government. She is even more courageous now than when she was free.
This is not to say that one must assume a fatalistic attitude and willingly embrace injustice and persecution. On the contrary, De Lima and the victims of injustice and persecution like her must fight tooth and nail to obtain justice for themselves and others. Edmund Burke said: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Yet while alone in the cell, surely there is a God waiting, always ready to listen and more than willing to console and give hope. In the end, the people who cause this travesty of justice will inevitably be judged by the God of history.
To end this column, I lend my voice to a statement released by the Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima, of which I am a convenor, and which has been signed by hundreds of supporters all over the world:
“We condemn the wrongful and indefinite imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima whose cases are on protracted trial and are prosecuted with the use of dubious testimonies of inmates. Six (6) judges have withdrawn from the cases. The indictments were changed (from drug trading to conspiracy to trade in drugs) after more than a year from her arrest and without the benefit of a new investigation. These circumstances occur in the same judicial environment that has enabled the politically charged ouster of a Chief Justice, and the arrests of other political dissenters and activists.
We denounce the relentless political persecution of Senator Leila de Lima whose detention resulted from her personal convictions and public statements against human rights abuses in the Philippines, as found by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD). She launched the Senate investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the “war on drugs”. Even in detention, she remains vocal in her political beliefs and advocacies.
We decry the unabated public vilification of Senator Leila de Lima by Duterte and his political allies, including their supporters in media and social media, who have targetted her as an object of verbal assault, sexist tirade, false information and hate speech. She is discriminated against as a woman and a human rights defender.
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Given the dubiousness of the charges against Senator Leila de Lima and the indubitable violations of her rights, we urge the Government of the Philippines to immediately free Senator Leila de Lima, and to drop the charges against her. Remedying Senator de Lima’s situation without delay is a demonstration to the Filipino people and the international community that the Philippines can still stand with the rest of the world in defense of freedom and human rights.”