By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Leila de Lima has accepted the Prize for Freedom award bestowed on her by the Liberal International (LI).
De Lima said she is extremely blessed “for being able to do the right thing” in her unrelenting battle against human rights abuses.
“I am extremely and unconditionally blessed, so much so that there is no room in my heart for regrets or second thoughts. No room for ‘could haves’, ‘would haves’ or ‘should haves.’ I am where I am now because I did the right thing,” de Lima said in her acceptance speech delivered by her brother Vicente “Vicboy” de Lima II during the awarding rites in Manila on Saturday.
“I may have been the most vocal and one of the first to raise the alarm against the spate of extrajudicial killings perpetrated under this regime, but I do not stand alone, and many laid the foundation long before I entered the public service. So, allow me please to give thanks to some of them,” de Lima stressed.
De Lima also acknowledged the role of at least three Filipino Presidents in her life: namely, former Presidents Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Simeon Benigno Aquino III.
The senator said she can only hope to emulate the example that has been set by Mrs. Aquino.
“She was, and always will be, the epitome of a world-renowned advocate of democracy, peace, and the empowerment of women. She did not just fight and defeat a dictator, she was instrumental in the creation of a Constitution that was intended to ensure that one will never rise and wrest power away from the people ever again,” she said.
De Lima also chose to give credit to Mrs. Arroyo for appointing her back in 2008, as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
“It was during a critical time during her administration, when the human rights record of the Philippine Government was sounding an alarm all over the world,” she said.
“You might not have expected to hear me acknowledge her, but it is true. At the time, I was called the ‘surprise choice.’ And I was. No one was more surprised by it than me. I had no background in human rights, but – as many of you know – I am not one to back off from a challenge,” de Lima said.
Still, she said, she was and still is faithful to the mandate she was given. “The CHR and I embarked on investigations into extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, deaths of civilians at the hands of policemen and other state agents, heinous crimes, among others,” she said.
“In fact, the Commission traveled all the way to Davao to investigate the Davao death squad because it was brought to our collective attention by Prof. Philip Alston, who was then the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” the lawmaker pointed out.
De Lima, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration, is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center over allegations of involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP).
Ironically, it was during Mr. Aquino’s term when de Lima, as Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary, pursued the various graft and corruption cases filed against Mrs. Arroyo.
“Finally, I give thanks to the President I am most honored to have worked with, President Benigno S. Aquino III. God truly works in mysterious ways – that I ended up serving 5 of my most fulfilling years in public service under a President I did not even know personally before my appointment as his Secretary of Justice.
“Our faith in the Rule of Law, in holding public officials accountable, in the importance of truth and selfless public service, and in defending human rights were so aligned that it didn’t matter that we’ve known each other for such a relatively short time. I thank him for his faith in me, then and now,” she stressed.