The vindication of Sen. Leila de Lima

By Artchil B. Fernandez

Finally, the most famous political prisoner in this part of the world was granted the right to bail. After six years, eight months and 21 days of detention she walked out of prison.  This is the beginning of the vindication of Sen. Leila de Lima.

In a 69-page ruling, Presiding Judge Gener M. Gito of Branch 206 of the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City granted Sen. Leila de Lima’s bail petition paving the way for her liberty along with co-accused former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Bucayu, former aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez, and alleged bagman Jose Adrian Dera. “The evidence so far presented by the prosecution failed to prove the individual act of the accused which when combined, will prove complicity,” the court said. The decision then concluded.

“Thus, assessing the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution, the Court is of the firm view and so holds that accused de Lima, Bucayu, Dayan, Sanchez, and Dera should be allowed to post bail as the prosecution was not able to discharge its burden of establishing that the guilt of the said accused is strong.”

On February 23, 2017, the previous administration ordered the arrest and detention of Sen. De Lima accusing her of receiving payoffs from drug traffickers when she served as justice secretary between 2010 and 2015. Three cases were filed against her. Two cases were already dismissed and the last is still on trial.

The persecution of Sen. De Lima is widely viewed as Du30’s act of personal vendetta. When the senator chaired the Commission on Human Rights, she initiated an investigation of alleged extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad when Du30 was city mayor in 2009. He vowed to punish her for daring to investigate him upon assuming the presidency.

The cases against Sen. De Lima were pure fabrication. Aside from the testimonies of convicted drug lords, there was no corroborative material or circumstantial evidence against her. In normal situation, the cases should have been dismissed immediately for lack of merit. Yet she was detained for almost seven years despite weak cases not supported by any concrete evidence.

To underscore the fact that there was no case against Sen. De Lima, six judges handling the cases have either recused or inhibited themselves or opted for early retirement. Hearings on the cases were deliberately delayed to prolong the senator’s detention. It was obvious the Du30 administration simply wanted to lock her up.

Aside from putting her behind bars, Du30 also subjected her to unprecedented slut-shaming and poisonous personal attacks, both in traditional and social media including spreading fabricated and fake sex videos. A delighted Du30 enjoyed these.

What happened to Sen. De Lima is the clearest example of how the entire machinery of the state was mobilized to satisfy the personal pique of an autocrat. It lucidly illustrated the weaponization of the justice system against Du30’s perceived enemies. This is a solid proof of Du30’s abuse and misuse of state power.

Liberty of Sen. De Lima set in motion her eventual vindication. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla sees her acquittal in the last case. “Chances are she will be acquitted. There’s a huge chance. Bail is not granted just like that,” he opined. De Lima’s chief tormentor, Du30’s spokesperson Harry Roque who while in power vowed she rot in jail agreed with Remulla. “The court has granted her bail petition because the evidence against her is not strong enough,” Roque effetely admitted.

This week, seven convict witnesses who testified against Sen. De Lima recanted their testimonies in a letter to the court. They claimed they were coerced to manufacture stories against the senator and were sorry for their participation in her persecution.

“At this point, we would like to state that our participation as witnesses in the drug cases against former Justice Secretary de Lima was vitiated by undue compulsion and influence, and thus, any judicial statement made by us, is void [due to] lack of consent,” the witnesses said in a signed letter addressed to the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 dated November 17, 2023. “We no longer desire to live our lives with the knowledge that we allowed ourselves to become pawns or instruments of injustice. We wish to live a life of dignity, integrity, and responsibility moving forward,” they added.

The release of Sen. De Lima is a huge blow to Du30. The senator’s incarceration and torment was a personal project of his. Freeing her is another stab in the back of Du30 by the current administration. The elder Duterte expected her continuing detention and hounding with the UniTeam in power. This is an acerbic disappointment for him.

Freedom and ultimate vindication of Sen. De Lima is another indicator UniTeam is no more. Sen. De Lima’s bail will further speed up the break-up of Team Agila and Team Tigre, erstwhile election allies. Bridges are being burned with finality.

The release of his arch nemesis is a bitter pill for Du30 to swallow. He staked his reputation and that of his administration, risked local and international ire and condemnation with the detention of Sen. De Lima.  For the current administration to free her is the ultimate slap.

The freedom of Sen. Leila de Lima and her subsequent vindication is the triumph of truth and justice. Du30 marshaled the might of the state to make her life a “living hell” but in the long run failed. Her persistence, perseverance, and indomitable spirit dashed and shattered his evil design.

The lesson is clear. Evil will never win over good.