One year ago, I was with some friends, partymates, and allies when the news arrived: The administration had given the order to bring Senator Leila de Lima to prison. We kept her company, aware that at anytime, she would be picked up and brought to Camp Crame.
Tomorrow marks the first year anniversary of Senator Leila’s incarceration. Not one gram of illegal drugs has been found as evidence against her. There remains no clarity—and this goes to the level of the Supreme Court—on what crimes she was supposed to have committed.
Meanwhile, as she languishes in prison, the oppression, abuse, and persecution continues against those who stand against the administration. The attacks against institutions that guard against abuse, and ensure that we are a nation guided by laws rather than the whims of the powerful, remain relentless: Against the Commission on Human Rights; the Ombudsman; the Supreme Court; even against the Free Press. Allies and partymates who chose to follow their conscience rather than be coopted by the administration have been stripped of their funds. Even party-members in LGUs have been threatened, forcing many to move to the administration party despite misgivings.
A year has passed since Senator de Lima was imprisoned, and the threats against our rights and democracy continue. Perhaps it is time for some reflection: We see the deaths, the lies, the disrespect for rights. Leila de Lima stood against this. She was jailed. Do any of us still believe the fake allegations against her? Is it not yet clear: Her only crime was to fight for our rights; to stand for freedom; to struggle against a government that is oppressive, vulgar, and disrespectful of the law.
The entire party remains steadfast in its insistence: Leila de Lima is innocent. Leila de Lima is honorable. Leila de Lima is not corrupt. It is wrong to imprison Leila de Lima. We demand that the administration follow the laws of the land, and free Leila de Lima immediately.
While Senator Leila de Lima may be alone in jail, she is not alone in standing for what is right. Many of us, including those in the Senate, have long stood with her against government abuse. Because of this, many—including our Chair, Vice President Leni Robredo—have become victims to lies and persecution by this government. Despite our defense of democracy and human rights, or perhaps because of this, the party has been relentlessly pilloried.
In light of this, I ask the Party: If we were to come face-to-face with Senator Leila, can we all rightfully tell her, “I never betrayed you; I stood with you all along”? Which lines should we never cross? What distinguishes constructive engagement with the administration from outright complicity in its actions? Were we whole-hearted in standing by our principles, or did we apply them half-heartedly? Did we put our own self-interest over doing what is right and just? Who are we as Liberals, and how do we live its principles through the laws, policies, and agendas that we support?
Tomorrow, Senator Leila will have been a year in prison. On Sunday, we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the peaceful revolution in EDSA. I remember a Liberal senator, in another chapter of our history, who was also imprisoned for being in the opposition and for standing by his principles. He was also brought to court on made-up charges. Senator Ninoy Aquino was also jailed, and ruthlessly murdered.
During those days, the Liberal Party fought. We rose to the challenge and fought against a corrupt, oppressive, and deceptive dictatorship. May we all reflect on our history as a party—the many instances of fighting and sacrifice; the lessons we learned and the times we put principle above all else; the way we stood our ground, despite the difficulties, against dictatorship and abuse. May we all use the next few days to search our souls, to relive the essence of being Filipino, and to think about what we should do to reclaim sanity in governance.
We remain steadfast in our faith: The Filipino people can tell truth from lies. The Filipino people will choose compassion and understanding over rage; life and liberty over violence, impunity, and dictatorship. Through this faith, we gain clarity on our duties as Liberals in this day and age: To work tirelessly to regain the full trust of our people—so that we may all unite and inspire each other towards greater vigilance and purposeful action.
Together, let us defend democracy, freedom, and independence against threats domestic or foreign.
Free Senator Leila de Lima.
Forward with freedom, reason, and communal responsibility in all our actions.
Be true to being Liberal.