Q&A: ‘I need to be vindicated’: Leila de Lima on Duterte and the drug war | Politics News

Manila, Philippines – Leila de Lima was launched from detention final month into what the previous Philippines senator calls “an entire new world”.

In 2016, then-President Rodrigo Duterte promised to “destroy” de Lima, one of many loudest critics of his lethal drug battle. The president’s supporters started concentrating on the first-term senator and former human rights commissioner – ridiculing her for an alleged romantic affair along with her driver, and accusing her of involvement in drug trafficking.

In February 2017, she was arrested on drug costs she denies and that worldwide observers have mentioned are politically motivated.

“I had this deep sense of disbelief,” de Lima informed Al Jazeera. “I by no means thought that Mr Duterte would go to that extent, that size, of jailing me. I assumed it might simply be each day vilification, private assaults, assaults in opposition to my womanhood.”

In 2022, Duterte’s term came to an end and he was changed by Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Whereas Marcos has deserted a lot of Duterte’s incendiary rhetoric in direction of critics, drug battle killings and human rights abuses have continued below his administration.

De Lima was lastly granted bail final month in any case however one of many witnesses who testified in opposition to her recanted their statements; some have mentioned they gave compelled testimonies. Duterte has now left politics, though his daughter, Sara, is vp. Each may very well be topic to an investigation into the drug battle by the Worldwide Legal Courtroom, regardless that Duterte pulled Manila out of the court docket in 2019.

A member of the opposition Liberal Social gathering, de Lima spoke at size about Marcos, whose alliance with the Duterte household is starting to fracture publicly. Marcos is now finding out cooperation with the ICC after insisting earlier this year he would shut out its investigators.

De Lima, 64, says she plans to return to her non-public legislation follow and has no plans to run for workplace after shedding a Senate reelection bid from jail final 12 months. However she refuses to stay silent, promising to not give her political enemies the “satisfaction” after her extended detention. “I might ask myself, is it value it?” she mentioned. “The reply was at all times sure.”

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Al Jazeera: How are you adjusting to freedom?

Leila de Lima: I’m steadily adjusting and getting my bearings again. There’s a sense of disorientation after spending nearly seven years in closed, constricted, confined quarters.

It was painful for me to be away from my household and mates. There have been nights that I might actually cry. My mum [who suffers from dementia] didn’t know I used to be in jail. What she knew was that I used to be in america on research go away.

It was merely hurtful and revolting, on the similar time, as a result of I didn’t need to be in jail.

Al Jazeera: What did Duterte hope to attain by arresting you?

Leila de Lima: He destroyed my public persona and my political life as a result of so many individuals believed him. And that was, if I’ll say so, a superb technique on his half, as a result of [he and his allies] thought few folks would consider these accusations about my alleged drug hyperlinks. In order that they considered first demeaning me and destroying my womanhood in order that extra folks would consider their accusations.

It was so foul, it was so despicable of him to look into my non-public life, utilizing that and demeaning my individual, my character, my popularity.

Al Jazeera: You acquired intensive help from overseas, however much less so within the Philippines. Have been you shocked?

Leila de Lima: It was anticipated. I anticipated most in Congress, and even the Supreme Courtroom, to be cowed. And the help of the worldwide group was additionally anticipated as a result of Duterte was not precisely the favorite of democratic international locations. I simply occurred to be the image of opposition in opposition to his drug battle, this murderous drug battle.

I need the world to at all times be watching our nation as a result of it helped. One thing worse might have been achieved to me have been it not for the curiosity of the worldwide group.

Leila de Lima pictured after a warrant was issued for her arrest in 2017 [File: Philippine Senate-Public Relations and Information Bureau via EPA]

Al Jazeera: Duterte and his allies habitually used misogynistic and gendered language to assault you and different ladies who opposed him. What has made such assaults so efficient within the Philippines?

Leila de Lima: It’s nonetheless a male-dominated society. The machismo culture continues to be there. We see very profitable ladies in nearly all fields, however it’s nonetheless a problem for us to be recognised for our personal deserves, not for our sexuality. Ladies have extra empathy – it might be a extra supreme society if extra ladies leaders have been in authorities.

After Duterte’s assaults, I received greater than 2,000 hate messages on my cellphone. Unprintable phrases. So I needed to eliminate my cellphone.

Al Jazeera: How did you react as you noticed these ways from inside detention?

Leila de Lima: He prompted a variety of hurt to this nation. He has demolished establishments, he has co-opted establishments, ruined our cultural values. However I by no means misplaced religion within the Filipino folks, simply as I didn’t lose religion within the justice system.

I nervous in regards to the desensitisation of the folks, the insanity of encouraging killings and never observing the rule of legislation and due course of. I used to be alarmed that so few folks have been standing up in opposition to him.

Al Jazeera: Has that desensitisation carried over into the current below Marcos?

Leila de Lima: There at the moment are some developments that present we at the moment are within the normalisation course of below the brand new administration. The method to the drug drawback has drastically modified, from [extrajudicial] and state-inspired killings to a extra humane method to the battle on medicine. And there’s additionally some democratic area now. There’s much less repression and fewer harassment of critics and dissenters.

I’d prefer to consider it’s a constructive development. We’ve to dismantle the dangerous legacies of the Duterte regime, particularly within the space of human rights. Additionally, veering away from China and going again to our conventional allies is a really constructive improvement.

Al Jazeera: While you have been launched, you thanked Marcos for “respecting the independence of the judiciary”. Do you suppose there’s nonetheless work to be achieved?

Leila de Lima: There’s nonetheless work to be achieved. However this administration simply needs to be clear in its respect for the independence of the judiciary. Duterte would at all times attempt to co-opt the judiciary, such because the removal [in 2018] of Chief Justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno from the Supreme Courtroom.

I don’t suppose there’s any nation with an ideal justice system. However my case has been a visual instance of how an impartial judiciary can yield very constructive outcomes.

Al Jazeera: In September, activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro accused the army of forcibly abducting them. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has publicly questioned their story, regardless of presumably being neutral, and their lawyer has accused the Supreme Courtroom of failing to behave after they filed a safety order. Ought to the Marcos administration be extra proactive in such circumstances in guaranteeing judicial independence?

Leila de Lima: After all, this administration ought to be extra proactive in all the pieces. It’s beset with a variety of challenges. And the remnants of the outdated regime are nonetheless there. So if the seeds are nonetheless there, and if nothing a lot is finished to eliminate them, then you possibly can anticipate the outdated methods to be revived.

The Nationwide Process Drive to Finish Native Communist Armed Battle [alleged to play a large role in the abduction] ought to be dismantled immediately. It has served no function besides to sow disunity and encourage human rights violations. That’s why we have now the circumstances of Jhed and Jonila.

Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro after their release. Jhed is on the left and Jonila is on the right holding her arm aloft
Environmental activists Jhed Tamano, left, and Jonila Castro accused the Philippine army of kidnapping them as they appeared at a authorities information convention in September [File: Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

Al Jazeera: How nicely are you aware President Marcos?

Leila de Lima: I don’t know him, I simply know him because the son of the previous dictator. We met as soon as [in 2016], and we hardly talked.

I simply know him as a president now. And I’ve been observing him. He’s attempting his greatest, I feel, to chop himself from the legacy and stigma of his father. Though they’re under no circumstances acknowledging that, they’re not apologetic about it. However he’s attempting as a lot as attainable to construct his personal picture.

We talked over the telephone after I used to be taken hostage in prison. He requested how I used to be and mentioned he might switch me to a safer place, however I mentioned I might relatively keep in my detention quarters. He mentioned he would be certain my quarters have been safer, and positive sufficient, they strengthened my safety there.

Al Jazeera: Marcos Jr’s reluctance to acknowledge the atrocities of his father’s martial rule has led critics to fret his presidency doesn’t bode nicely for democracy within the Philippines. Ought to he do extra to distance himself from his father?

Leila de Lima: Sure. It’s fairly robust on his half. He had little political expertise. He wants extra or higher advisers round him, authorized and political advisers and consultants. And he should get his priorities straight, should actually attend to the challenges of the financial system, to inflation. It’s robust on his half as a result of he’s attempting to construct his personal identify.

Al Jazeera: As president, Duterte embraced the legacy of Marcos Sr, which many consider paved the best way for his son to change into president. Is it truthful to say this presidency wouldn’t exist with out the one earlier than it?

Leila de Lima: What is evident to me is that it was an alliance of comfort. They wanted one another. Duterte would have needed his daughter to be the candidate, however [former President] Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cast a partnership [where Marcos and Sara Duterte would share a ticket] as a result of [Liberal Party candidate] Leni Robredo was having a robust displaying with voters. It was a formidable alliance.

Al Jazeera: With Marcos in energy, that alliance is now beginning to fracture. Is there a degree the place, simply as Marcos and Duterte wanted one another, Marcos may have to show to Duterte’s critics, comparable to your self and Maria Ressa?

Leila de Lima: That is still to be seen. All of it relies on what values we will generally share. Proper now, we’re sharing these values, these targets, particularly within the matter of the ICC investigation and the human rights side of this nation.

So for so long as we share these beliefs and people values, there’s at all times that risk. We’re not ruling that out. And for so long as he treads the appropriate path of governance, there’s the probability that among the help will probably be there.

However we nonetheless take into account ourselves, the Liberal Social gathering, because the opposition. We aren’t that noisy as a result of we’re nonetheless observing him. However we will see the distinction from Duterte. That’s why we can’t brazenly be hostile to him at this level.

Al Jazeera: Do you suppose Duterte supporters could break from Marcos over a possible ICC investigation?

Leila de Lima: There’s at all times that risk. However we will see the weakening of the Duterte affect. He was perceived to be invincible. However we will see now that he’s not. We will say the identical factor with Sara. She will not be that highly effective. When her father’s affect weakens, then that goes along with her.

May Day
Protesters carry a mock coffin in protest on the 1000’s of killings below Rodrigo Duterte”s battle on medicine in 2017 [File: Bullit Marquez/AP Photo]

Al Jazeera: What kind of position would you play in an ICC investigation?

Leila de Lima: Each advisory and proactive. It relies on what the ICC wants from me.

Al Jazeera: Final week, a gaggle of households of drug battle victims launched an announcement via their attorneys, saying: “We’d not have wanted the ICC had the Philippine authorities squarely addressed the battle on medicine. Nevertheless it didn’t, and has not.” Certainly, since Marcos took energy in June 2022, there have been no convictions in what may very well be as much as 30,000 deaths.

Leila de Lima: There’s no argument that the justice system is working. We’ve been investigating already, however it’s very poor. The ICC is keen and really a lot able to doing these investigations. And nothing was taking place insofar as the upper echelons of these answerable for the killings, no authorities or home authority was investigating Duterte and Senator Ronald dela Rosa [previously Duterte’s police chief and top enforcer of the war on drugs].

The families of the drug war victims have each motive to complain and be pissed off about all of it.

Al Jazeera: Ought to Marcos have ordered investigations into the drug battle upon taking energy?

Leila de Lima: Sure, that’s the supreme scenario. That’s what we have been anticipating when the brand new administration got here in. However as I mentioned, multiple 12 months, and there’s solely an investigation into low-level perpetrators. We’ve not seen something greater than that.

So it might be too late now. The ICC is at an additional stage of its investigation. So [deferring to the ICC] is cheap, it’s sensible, and it’s maintaining with the dictates of justice and accountability.

The issue is simply how quickly the ICC investigation can transfer and lead to a concrete improvement, just like the issuance of a warrant of arrest. That will make folks consider the ICC is critical, and that its investigation is one thing we will sit up for.

Al Jazeera: To you, would the prosecution of Duterte by the ICC really feel like the start of a therapeutic course of?

Leila de Lima: He needs to be made accountable for what he did to me. I’m not a vindictive individual; it’s not for vengefulness. It’s a matter of justice. I’m a sufferer of gross injustice.

I have to be absolutely vindicated. I would like folks to know the reality about my innocence. I would like folks to know the way and what he has achieved to me. So full vindication is what I’m after.

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