Truth triumphs

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“The truth can never be suppressed, and in the end, it will blast away the lies, including the liars.” These words appeared in this space on October 28, 2017, denouncing the injustice inflicted on Leila de Lima by President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.

Leila de Lima was Duterte’s fiercest critic. As chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), she investigated the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and its link to Duterte, then Davao City mayor. When Duterte became President, de Lima, as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, initiated an investigation into his bloody and gory war on drugs. Thus, she became a marked woman in Duterte’s eyes. Crushing her became his obsession.

Less than a year after Duterte became president, he had de Lima incarcerated on trumped-up charges of being involved in the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary. She was detained for almost seven years despite a weak case against her. The only evidence against her was the testimonies of drug lords serving their sentences in the national penitentiary. No material or corroborative evidence was produced by the prosecution.

Duterte was able to detain de Lima through legal calisthenics—postponing hearings, non-appearance of prosecution witnesses, and multiple changes of judges. Six judges handling her case either retired, inhibited, or recused themselves from her case.

The case of Leila de Lima is the best evidence of the weaponization of the judiciary by a populist autocrat. It is the finest case of injustice under Duterte’s brassy rule.

Leila de Lima is arguably the most famous political prisoner under the Duterte administration. She endured not only solitary confinement but also public ridicule and shaming at the hands of Duterte. Fake sex videos of her were produced and feasted upon by dirty and nasty legislators allied with Duterte in the House. Trolls and digital prostitutes of Duterte polluted cyberspace with made-up filth against her. Even her senator-colleagues refused to stand by her against Duterte’s onslaught, fearful of his wrath.

Yet, she persisted, armed only with faith in truth and justice. With a few handfuls of supporters, she withstood Duterte’s judicial and digital blitzkrieg. This week, her valiant and heroic determination bore fruit. The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 acquitted de Lima of the third and last drug-related case filed by Duterte and his administration. Her two other drug-related cases were earlier dismissed by the courts. Finally, she is free.

Judge Gener Gito granted the demurrer petition of de Lima, which is tantamount to acquittal. A demurrer is a motion to dismiss a case filed by an accused on the grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction.

The court found there was insufficient proof of a conspiracy to engage in the illegal drug trade. The words of convicted felons against de Lima were thrashed by the court.

“Their testimonies are marred with incredulities and inconsistencies, which affect not only their credibility but also the credulity of their own testimonial stories. Further, their testimonies, if not hearsay, violate the res inter alios rule in evidence. Thus, their testimonies cannot have even a minuscule place in the court of justice,” the court declared. The judge ruled that “the prosecution was not able to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt.”

On the day the last drug-related case against de Lima was dismissed, Quezon City RTC Branch 76 also exonerated her of two disobedience cases on congressional subpoena during the House hearings on her drug cases. This completes the vindication of Leila de Lima, who is now free of all cases filed against her by the Duterte administration.

Leila de Lima is elated by the developments. “It’s very liberating. I respected the rule of law, despite the pain, despite the injustices of it all. I confronted the charges head-on, and I went through and endured the whole process.” She also sent this message to her tormentor:

“To former President Duterte, you will now be held accountable for your sins against the people,” Leila de Lima said. “I am just one victim. Thousands of Filipinos were killed during your bloody and fake war on drugs. Many families were orphaned.”

The ultimate vindication of Leila de Lima is the triumph of truth. Duterte manufactured cases against her, punishing her for investigating him and his war against illegal drugs. During his rule, Duterte used all the apparatuses and might of the state to persecute Leila de Lima and make her life a living hell.

Yet in the end, Duterte, his machinations, and lies were defeated. At the height of his power, Duterte seemed invulnerable, unstoppable, and invincible. He had the entire country in the palm of his hand and bullied all state institutions—legislative, judiciary, and executive—to bend the knee. But all that was ephemeral. Today, Duterte is merely a shadow of his former self. He failed to murder the truth, and it is now haunting him back.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. declared. These words aptly illustrate the triumph of truth in the case of Leila de Lima. Duterte joined the long list of autocrats, dictators, and tyrants who tried to kill the truth and suppress justice but failed miserably.

This space has championed the cause of Leila de Lima in several pieces over the last seven years amidst the danger. It shares her profound joy in being proven innocent of all charges. Hopefully, all victims of Duterte will get justice, and truth will finally triumph.

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