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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The resurrection

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“She was willing to forgive and forget, she said upon her release, but for the one person she accused of having ordered her ‘persecution’ – the former president”

This column’s title refers to the political resurrection of Leila de Lima, whose well-known career in government started with being the chair of the Commission on Human Rights under GMA, then Secretary of Justice for the entirety of PNoy’s presidency, from which vantage point she got elected senator of the realm in 2016, the same year RRD became president.

As CHR chair, she initiated investigations into the activities of what was called the DDS, the ‘Davao Death Squad,’ allegedly under the direction of then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

She went public in condemning violations of human rights in Duterte’s handling of criminals in his jurisdiction.

The Davao mayor entered the presidency with just three senators allied with him: the Cayetano siblings and Koko Pimentel whose party, PDP, was the Comelec-listed vehicle for the president’s candidacy.

De Lima and other members of the LP supported Koko Pimentel for the presidency of the chamber and, for that, the neophyte senator was named chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

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San Beda lawyers tried to get Sen. Leila to ‘smoke the peace pipe’ with the new president, and cooperate with his administration.

One hopeful sign of political rapprochement happened in the floor of the Batasan when right before ascending the dais for his first SONA, Duterte approached Sen. de Lima and offered his hand, something he did not accord to many other senators in the front row.

No sooner had she warmed her seat as chair of the justice committee when she called for a Senate investigation into the nascent ‘war on drugs’ featuring the dreaded Operation Tokhang, linking the same to the days of the DDS.

That was when she got into the crosshairs with the administration and its new followers in the House as well as its prosecutorial arm which she previously headed.

They turned the tables on de Lima and accused her of taking drug money when she was justice secretary.

Congressional hearings saw Muntinglupa prisoners and even her underlings in the department coming out to testify against her. Even salacious details of her personal life were trotted out. Accuser became the accused.

And on Feb. 17, 2017, barely eight months from becoming a senator of the realm, de Lima was detained in the PNP custodial center for the non-bailable charges filed against her by the prosecutors under the department she once headed.

Throughout the years of detention, international human rights associations and even the US government appealed for her to be released on bail.

The European Union warned our government that our trade privileges under the GSP+ scheme could be withdrawn, something that would affect our duty-free exports of some 6,000 commodities to the EU countries.

When the Marcos presidency took over from Duterte, several witnesses took turns in recanting their testimonies against the jailed senator, and some pointed to pressure from her successor in office as the instigator of what they later claimed as false testimony.

To cut a long story short, Leila de Lima was ordered released from jail by Muntinglupa RTC Judge Gener Gito last Nov. 13. Shortly thereafter, the EU announced the continuation of our GSP+ privileges.

If it was a tit-for-tat agreement, it was well worth it. Besides, from a humanitarian point of view, the lady had suffered much.

She was willing to forgive and forget, she said upon her release, but for the one person she accused of having ordered her ‘persecution’ – the former president.

And after getting ‘holy’ benediction from a gaggle of bishops of the country’s numerous Church and a visit to the pilgrimage sites of Manaoag and Penafrancia, she sallied forth to voice out her angst, weighing in especially on the forthcoming investigation by the ICC of FPRRD and his co-accused, along with the issue of renewing acquiescence to the Rome Statute.

The lady has gone to town, savoring every moment of her liberation, and until Kathniel’s announced parting after 11 years of sweetie-sweetie, media gave Leila de Lima hog-space.

Her perorations about the ICC, her disavowal (“for now”) of another Senate run in the coming mid-terms, and her image build-up as another ‘martir de Mt. Apo’ by self-proclaimed political analysts and the sympathetic user-Left, all these were given front-page treatment till the separation of the telenovela lovebirds, followed by the tragedies in Mindanao.

The Duterte haters have a new ‘poster girl’ after France de Castro and Raoul Manuel succeeded in diminishing Inday Sara’s popularity.

Will Leila’s political resurrection be at the expense of the Duterte brand? Will her fulminations against her ‘persecutor’ get her personal approbation from the electorate?

As of now, the opposition to Duterte once vocalized by Ocho Derecho and the LP have but two fervent advocates in two ladies, Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima.

Their leader of choice in 2022 has gone hibernating in Naga City after traipsing around the world.

Bam Aquino has resigned from the party; Kiko Pangilinan has been unusually silent; and Frank Drilon limits himself to legal opinions every now and then.

The likelihood that they will gravitate towards the Marcos ‘unity” clarion is a not too remote possibility, as the former Uni-team morphs, amoeba-like, in to two.

Or do we see a third force? Marcos versus the new ‘opposition’ of Duterte supporters, and a third force led by De Lima or Hontiveros?

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