Vincente de Lima, the brother of Philippines Senator Leila de Lima, currently in prison for criticizing President Duterte’s Drug War, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On Duterte’s assault on human rights:
“Imagine a pile of corpses that can almost fill up the Stade de Geneve, a 30,000-seat stadium in Geneva. The stack of cadavers is a result of a horrendous drug war instigated by President Duterte.”
“All democratic institutions have been subjected to attacks and manipulation by Duterte and his enablers.”
On Duterte’s attacks on Senator Leila de Lima:
“According to [a] witness, Duterte ordered them to kill my sister when she visited an alleged dumping ground for victims of the DDS [in 2009], but they did not succeed.”
“Given Duterte’s grudge and to warn any opponent of his authoritarian undertakings, almost the entire apparatus of government has been working overdrive to discredit, vilify, detain and ‘iron grip’ my sister.”
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed trumped-up cases against her based on orchestrated lies and fabricated testimonies of big-time drug felons.”
“Now, my sister has been in unjust detention for more than two years since her arrest on 24 February 2017. 765 days and counting.”
On the differences between Duterte and Senator de Lima:
“Duterte and my sister are polar opposites. One is an autocrat with a penchant for violence and disregard for human rights. The other, a human rights defender.”
“As a fearless human rights and social justice champion, and a defender of the rule of law, [my sister] is indeed a direct threat to Duterte’s hold on power and his current ascendancy.”
Imagine a pile of corpses that can almost fill up the Stade de Geneve, a 30,000-seat stadium in Geneva. The stack of cadavers is a result of a horrendous drug war instigated by President Duterte, a cruel and brutal man who targets the poor and defenseless in our country, but is kind and solicitous to an Asian superpower who steals our territory in the West Philippine Sea.
That same President has unconstitutionally pulled the Philippines out of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court starting this month, thus depriving the 105 million Filipinos of the only effective legal remedy for the grossest of offenses, such as crimes against humanity. This Hitler wannabe even promised to continue his brutal drug war in a “harsher way” as his final solution.
That there is a pervasive culture of impunity in my country now, amidst an emergent dictatorship, is pretty obvious. All democratic institutions have been subjected to attacks and manipulation by Duterte and his enablers – whether it is the Congress, the judiciary, the Commission on Human Rights, the press, the church, and civil society.
My sister, Senator Leila de Lima, is among the very few in the political opposition (another is the brave Senator Sonny Trillanes [this can be mentioned if he’ll be in attendance]) who has been brave enough to stand up against Duterte, and has been painstakingly working to shatter what she calls the “consensus of silence and conspiracy of fear” among Filipinos today.
Even as a neophyte Senator who started her term on July 2016, my sister lost no time in filing a resolution to investigate the spate of killings. During the Senate investigation into the matter, she presented a former assassin who belonged to the so-called Davao Death Squad or the DDS, a vigilante group which reportedly killed at least 1,800 people in Davao City. Duterte was Mayor of Davao for more than 20 years. This witness identified him as the mastermind of the DDS, and revealed that the drug war killings in the country today followed the DDS pattern.
In 2009, an investigation on the DDS and then Mayor Duterte was conducted by a team led by my sister, who was then Chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. According to the said witness, Duterte ordered them to kill my sister when she visited an alleged dumping ground for victims of the DDS, but they did not succeed.
Given Duterte’s grudge and to warn any opponent of his authoritarian undertakings, almost the entire apparatus of government has been working overdrive to discredit, vilify, detain and “iron grip” my sister.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed trumped-up cases against her based on orchestrated lies and fabricated testimonies of big-time drug felons, whom my sister in a previous capacity as Justice Secretary, had caused to be segregated to stop their illicit trade.
Non-bailable arrest warrants were issued by regular courts, which accepted the cases despite serious jurisdictional questions, the fatal defects in the indictments, and, most importantly, the utter absence of evidence, particularly corpus delicti. Worse, these courts allowed a substitution of the charge (from drug trading to conspiracy to trade in drugs) without re-opening the preliminary investigation by the DOJ, while approving the prosecution’s plan to present disqualified witnesses.
Worse even, the 15-member Supreme Court, by a vote of nine (9) versus six (6), affirmed the validity of my sister’s arrest. But these nine could not even agree on the nature of the charge against her. Five (5) justices considered it as consummated drug trading; three of them said it was an indictment for conspiracy to trade in drugs, while one (1) justice claimed it could be either.
On top of all these legal maneuverings, Duterte’s allies at the Senate ousted my sister as Chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, while the House of Representatives conducted kangaroo hearings to slut-shame and malign her.
Now, my sister has been in unjust detention for more than two (2) years since her arrest on 24 February 2017. She is made to suffer augmented indignities, such as inspection of confidential documents, non-access to work tools such as laptops and tablets, and denial of any live media interview and any visit from foreign guests.
I am not actually surprised with the turn of events. Duterte and my sister are polar opposites. One is an autocrat with a penchant for violence and disregard for human rights. The other has an abiding passion for the rule of law and democracy, with a deep sense of honor and duty.
This devotion to human dignity and her dedication to an honest work may have been born in our home. As the eldest in our brood of four – I am the youngest – she was the first and most ardent recipient of moral lessons from our father, Vicente, and our grandfather, Lolo Agapito. Lolo was a public school teacher who taught us early on about gems such as the Gettysburg Address. I still remember our Lolo reciting these lines at our dinner table with Leila and my other siblings: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our father, a former election commissioner, always reminded us to “do the right things”, “stand always by our principles and convictions no matter what” and that “public office is a public trust.”
This upbringing is why my sister will never be cowed, even though Duterte has not stopped attacking and demonizing her, with the help from his social media operators and troll armies. She is a vanguard of the democratic opposition, and a leading voice of dissent. As a fearless human rights and social justice champion, and a defender of the rule of law, she is indeed a direct threat to Duterte’s hold on power and his current ascendancy.
My sister finds hope through the various expressions of support and validation for her work, including awards and recognitions from different parliaments, inter-governmental bodies, independent media, and cause-oriented groups.
Any form of solidarity to remedy or improve the situation of my sister – whether through a letter, statement, or group resolution – bolsters not just her resolve, but also contributes to the bigger quest to restore Philippine democracy and to protect human rights.
In my own way, I am trying to do my share. I represent her in some occasions and join social media campaigns. I have so far joined around 10 marathons and ultra-marathons that I dedicate to my sister, and where I wear my “One for Leila” shirt. Groups of people approach me and extend sympathies to my sister. Some have asked to have their own “One for Leila” running shirts. Some of those shirts have even made their way to marathons in Japan, Cambodia and the United States.
Yes, I am one with Leila. I believe that by standing with my sister, you are standing by the Filipino people in our struggle for democracy; you are standing by every human in the common quest for dignity and equality.
Please continue your support and solidarity. Thank you very much.
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019