Leila de Lima: 'Fragile democracy' of Philippines has been 'dismantled’

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, who is detained on drug charges, looks at a flower given by her supporter upon arrival at a local court to face an obstruction of justice complaint in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. She commemorated her 2,000th day in detention on August 16, 20222. (Photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)
Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, who is detained on drug charges, looks at a flower given by her supporter upon arrival at a local court to face an obstruction of justice complaint in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. She commemorated her 2,000th day in detention on August 16, 20222. (Photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

In an interview with the United States media outlet National Public Radio (NPR), detained former Senator Leila de Lima said the "fragile democracy" of the Philippines has been "dismantled in the bat of an eye."

Ultimately, former president Rodrigo Duterte’s legacy is leaving Philippine democracy eroded and battered, with democratic institutions badly damaged and "democratic fatigue" reinforced among the people.

Revealing that she keeps track of her days spent in detention on a prison wall, she added that her continued persecution "is emblematic of a larger problem", and a "manifestation of his [Duterte] authoritarianism."

"Duterte … was already waging war against democratic institutions even before he became president and when he became one he did not hold back in expressing his disdain against his critics and institutional checks," said de Lima, who added that she is being used as a warning to Duterte's opponents.

De Lima, a former chair of the Philippine Commission and Human Rights during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration, and Justice Secretary during the Benigno Aquino III administration, said that her detention represents a failure of the country's justice system.

"Any lawyer worth their salt knows that there is no case against me. If the accused is anyone other than me and the accuser was anyone other than the sitting president, the charges would go straight to the trash bin for incredulity and sheer lack of credibility."

Even after witness after witness recant their statements on her cases, the prosecutors in de Lima’s case have refused to withdraw the charges "for fear that the malevolent design that detained me will be revealed," claimed De Lima.

Among other issues, De Lima cited the attacks on former Philippine Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whose ouster was seen as unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional.

On May 11, the SC granted the quo warranto petition, a "bloodless coup" violating Sereno’s constitutional right to an impeachment process.

She also cited the closure of ABS-CBN, the largest media outfit in the country that was not granted a legislative franchise because of Duterte’s personal vendetta against the company, and the continuing persecution of Rappler CEO and Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa.

"While Malacañang denied it, the one thing in common in all those cases is that the former president spoke openly against those I mentioned and signaled to his people to proceed against such declared enemies," de Lima said.

In order to undo all of these things, the values of democracy and human rights must be inculcated in the next generation. "In democracies, the power lies in the people but the people must first realize that, then they should realize this responsibility," she said.

"We are only as strong as our electorate."

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.