By Hannah Toregoza
Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday welcomed the Liberal International’s (LI) call for the release of imprisoned liberals and democrats, noting the rising trend of government critics being jailed in many parts of the world.
De Lima, in her message to the 62nd Congress of Liberal International in Dakar, Senegal, emphasized the need to pressure national and intergovernmental authorities to help end intimidation and persecution of leaders who fight for worthy causes.
“This will reinforce the will and determination of other campaigners even as it will exert a much-needed pressure on national and intergovernmental authorities and decisionmakers to resolve not just the specific cases of the political prisoners, but to contribute in alleviating the socio-political situation in such severely strained countries, like the Philippines,” de Lima said in her message.
De Lima’s message entitled “Let’s Keep the Optimism and Work in Solidarity!” was delivered by her brother, Vicente “Vicboy” de Lima II, during an online teleconference before LI delegates on Nov. 30.
The LI has called for the de Lima’s release from the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center where she is currently detained while facing drug charges which she said are trumped-up charges against her by the Duterte administration by being one of its most vocal critics.
LI is also calling for the release of Kem Sokha of Cambodia and the Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia, among others.
De Lima also reiterated her call for the establishment and maintenance of a solid network of human rights defenders and pro-democracy champions to turn the tide of autocracy and populism.
“Some pundits claim that democracy is dying all over the world, and that what we are witnessing is the end of human rights,” she pointed out.
“They attribute it to the recent rise of populist and authoritarian leaders like Duterte, on the one hand, while there seems to be an absence of leadership and political will to confront them, on the other end,” she said.
“The former may be true, but the latter definitely is not. We continue to fight. Our hearts and minds will always bear the courage and determination to defend our freedom and the world’s democracies,” she added.
In the local setting, De Lima noted that the Philippines is once again under the grip of despotic rule under the populist strongman, President Rodrigo Duterte, 32 years after the fall of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
De Lima earned Duterte’s ire when she introduced a Senate resolution calling for an investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJK) in the government’s brutal war on drugs.
Prior to this, she also exposed Duterte’s involvement in the vigilante group known as the “Davao death squad” when she was the chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
“What is clear is that my arrest and continuing incarceration have been preceded and accompanied by a vicious and unparalleled campaign of personal vilification, character-assassination, and slut-shaming from no less than the Philippine president and his allies,” she said.
“There is no doubt that the personal attacks, political persecution and unjust detention that I have been suffering are inextricably connected to my vigorous and unrelenting criticism of Duterte’s so-called war on drugs and other anti-human rights policies,” she added.