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De Lima grateful, but says she does not owe Marcos her freedom

Former senator Leila De Lima said she does not owe President Bongbong Marcos anything for simply doing what is right and respecting the justice system.

Jul 4, 2024

Rhenzel Raymond Caling


5-minute read

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Photo by Bullit Marquez

Former senator Leila De Lima says she does not feel indebted to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. although she is grateful to him for allowing the justice system to work freely and decide on her case based on merits.

“I don’t think I can ever owe anyone my gratitude for simply doing what I think is right. Although I appreciate, and that’s why I had to express my gratitude about this administration showing respect for the independence of the judiciary,” she said in the July 3 episode of VERA Files’ TRES FROM TRESS podcast with senior editor Tress Martelino-Reyes.

With the court rulings in her favor, De Lima clarified she neither requested for nor entered into any deal with the Marcos administration regarding the three drug trafficking cases filed against her during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. 

“There’s no such explicit request. Ang gusto ko lang hayaan ang korte na tignan ‘yung mga ebidensya at gawin kung ano ‘yung tama based on the rule of law,” De Lima said.  

(What I only wanted was to let the court look at the evidence and do the right thing based on the rule of law.)

On June 24, a Muntinlupa court dismissed De Lima’s third and last drug case. That same day, a Quezon City court also cleared her of two disobedience cases.

Prior to this, De Lima was acquitted in two drug-related cases, in February 2021 and May 2023. In November, she was released on bail after almost seven years in detention.

“‘Yun lang naman ang kailangan ng judiciary, ‘wag itong mapakialaman sa mandato niya to deliver justice. Unlike before, I’m sure may mga naging pressure from the president himself,” the former senator said, referring to Duterte, who she believes, is responsible for what international rights groups say were fabricated and politically-motivated charges against her.

(That’s what the judiciary needs, for it to be left alone in its mandate to deliver justice. Unlike before, I’m sure there was pressure from the president himself.)

A staunch Duterte critic, the ballsy former Justice secretary launched an investigation into the Davao Death Squad (DDS) killings, while she was chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights from 2008 to 2010. When she was elected to the Senate in 2016, De Lima was named chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and immediately conducted an inquiry into the extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s bloody drug war. 

However, Duterte’s allies in the chamber removed her as chair of the committee in September 2016 following Duterte’s allegation that she was having an affair with her driver, who supposedly collected drug protection money from a syndicate in the national penitentiary which was under her jurisdiction as head of the justice department.

Duterte’s Justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, summoned convicted drug lords, former prison officials and police officers as primary witnesses on De Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trafficking inside the New Bilibid Prison.

De Lima’s initiatives in investigating the DDS and the drug war killings later became the subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation in 2021.

On June 27, Marcos said De Lima’s acquittal shows there is no need for the ICC to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the country because the justice system is working properly.

But De Lima slammed Marcos’ refusal to cooperate with the ICC, pointing out that the Hague-based tribunal retains jurisdiction on crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member-state of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that the ICC retains jurisdiction over crimes against humanity that happened in the Philippines from November 1, 2011 to March 17, 2019, which are the subject of the ICC probe. (Related: Marcos’ claim on the purpose of ICC misleads)

“They must cooperate. We’ve been saying that, kung ano-ano pa ‘yung mga nagiging excuse nila like alleged lack of jurisdiction, na hindi naman totoo. Kahit nga withdraw, hindi ibig sabihin hindi na pwedeng mag-imbestiga ‘yung ICC,” De Lima added.

(They must cooperate. We’ve been saying that but they have so many excuses like the alleged lack of jurisdiction, which is not true. Despite our withdrawal, it doesn’t mean the ICC can no longer investigate.)

De Lima also raised concerns on the human rights issues besetting the Marcos administration, particularly the continuing extrajudicial killings, abductions and red-tagging. 

She also called out the president for his refusal to apologize for the thousands of atrocities and massive corruption committed by his family under the 21-year rule of his dictator father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. 

“Dapat talaga may admission doon sa atrocities and sins of the father. It’s not because you are already in power, you would think the people would forget about it,” De Lima said. “No, the people cannot just forget it. Paano natin makakalimutan ‘yan, walang closure?”

(There has to be admission for the atrocities and sins of the father. It’s not because you are already in power, you would think the people would forget about it. No, the people cannot just forget it. How can we forget if there is no closure?)

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