A spectre of authoritarianism has made its presence felt to one of those who have dared to search for the truth behind the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJK). A day before the observance of the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted the Marcos dictatorship, Senator Leila De Lima was arrested hastily, following allegations on her links with the drug trade. These allegations came solely from high-profile convicted drug lords whose lives are at risk behind bars.
Leila has caught the ire of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after she investigated the Davao Death Squad when she was Chair of the Commission on Human Rights and when she was elected Senator, embarked on an investigation of EJK of suspected drug addicts.
Now nearing 8000, the number of those killed mostly comes from the urban poor, who barely have the resources to give their loved ones decent burials, much less the confidence and capacity to pursue cases in courts.
Back in September 2016, before the Senator could continue with the fact-finding, Duterte’s allies turned against her by easing her out from the Chairpersonship of the Senate’s Committee on Justice.
The Administration did not stop at divesting Leila of her Senate Committee leadership thus limiting her access to government resources necessary to fulfill her mandate. It has stripped her in public – baring her most intimate relationship and personal contact details in public, threatening to expose her alleged sex videos in the Legislature, and labelling her immoral.
Indeed, the misogyny among the public officials, our de facto role models for gender equality, quickly kicked in. A lawmaker who has since been expelled from a partylist,once attempted to extract the juiciest details about Leila’s sex life in a public hearing. He also claimed that the Senator’s request to be under military custody was due to her penchant for men.
Yet security is a real issue, when testimonies reveal that the police is behind EJK, including the murder, abduction, attempted murder and extortion of high-profile suspects, witnesses and convicts. Or simply when the highest official of the country not only promotes EJK but admits to murder.
Not all of us voted for Leila. But the arrest represents just one of the many incidents which are meant to scare those who dare speak against the Administration. Never in our recent history have we seen such brazenness in supporting murder, attempting to silence dissent, promoting discrimination against women and even revising the painful history of the Marcos dictatorship.
But we remain unbowed. Now more than ever, we aspire for change — one that secures rather than snatches away our freedoms and rights, one that fosters gender equality, inclusion and diversity, and one that values truth and accountability. We demand an end to the spate of EJK, justice for its victims and families. We want to rebuild trust and confidence on authorities whom the Constitution and the citizens have empowered to protect us.There is no other way but for this change to come. We ask the Duterte Administration the following:
- Grant Leila’s motion for her case to be transfer to and be heard by the office of the Ombudsman that has jurisdiction over cases involving government officials,
- Allow the UN Special Rapporteurs and independent experts on human rights to undertake their mandate and contribute to an impartial investigation.
- Prosecute and punish those who are responsible, including those who occupy the highest posts within the chain of command.
- Make reparations for individuals and communities who have endured trauma, displacement, losses including lost time and reputation due to undue detention and embarrassment.
- Hold accountable misogynistic officials for violating the Magna Carta of Women. Their actions represent a regression from the progress made by the government, private sector, feminist and social movements on women’s rights and gender equality.