By Hannah Torregoza
The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) have featured opposition Senator Leila de Lima in its latest book that offers a rare glimpse of the inspiring stories of 16 Asian women who are at the frontline of a democratic struggle now being fought globally.
De Lima in her letter sent to the CALD last December 10, thanked the Council for recognizing her unwavering fight for human rights.
The vocal critic of the present government is currently detained over allegations of involvement in the illegal drug trade by the Duterte administration. She had vehemently denied the allegations and branded it as trumped-up charges.
De Lima stressed how gratified and humbled she was to be among the 16 Asian women featured in the book entitled “Compelled by Duty, Conscripted by Destiny,” describing them as “exemplary” women who “epitomize grace under pressure and calm amidst calamity.”
“I am writing to express my deepest appreciation for all the support that the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) has shown me these past two years. Particularly, I am simultaneously gratified and humbled by the thought you have given to my current situation when I was included in the CALD publication,” De Lima said.
“In the face of all the challenges that I am currently facing – I have been detained now for 655 days, and I will be spending my second Christmas and welcoming another New Year under detention – it is difficult to put into words what a recognition like this does to uplift my spirit, and inspire and empower me to continue fighting,” she added.
Written by John Joseph S. Coronel whom De Lima described as “not only a highly able writer, but also someone who has great empathy for, and commitment to the cause,” “Compelled by Duty, Conscripted by Destiny” was initially launched in Bangkok last Nov. 19 in line with CALD’s Silver Anniversary celebration.
A known human rights defender here and abroad, de Lima said she sees her inclusion in the book as a “great source of strength and inspiration.”
She said this reminds her that she is not alone in her fight for justice, freedom and human rights.
“As surreal as it is to read about my own struggles told from the eyes of a third person, it is immensely invigorating to see that I am not alone. That there are others – dozens, hundreds, thousands of human rights and democracy defenders all over the world – who are with me in this fight,” she stressed.
“That I am not the only one suffering for the ideals we have pledged to promote and protect because we all recognize that these are principles that are worth fighting and sacrificing for,” she added.
According to De Lima, she prefers to see her struggles as “badges of honor” than “personal sacrifices” because her goal, “as with the goals of other human rights defenders, transcends any tyrant’s tenure.”
The lawmaker said she hopes the book can also inspire people to join the fight for human rights and democracy the same way that it inspired her to continue fighting the good fight.
“I have learned, from the events of the last decade and especially the last two years, that defenders like us will ALWAYS be needed…” she said.
“What we stand for always needs protecting and defending because selfish, greedy and malevolent forces are always lurking, waiting for an opportunity to wrest power for themselves and their own personal interests,” she emphasized.
Apart from de Lima, the other Asian women honored in the book are fellow Filipinas Vice President Leni Robredo, the late Deputy Speaker Dina Abad and Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco; Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen; former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri; Senior Minister Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Legislator Emily Lau of the Democratic Party of Hongkong.
It can be recalled that in Aug. 31 2017, convenors of the CALD Women’s Caucus visited De Lima to check on her condition as a “prisoner of conscience” and discussed with her the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
CALD Women’s Council Chairperson Jayanthi Balaguro had said De Lima should be given a fair trial and be allowed to fulfill her duty as a duly-elected Senator of the Republic of the Philippines.