Philippine Daily Inquirer
To be Leila and Sonny
On Feb. 24, first-term Sen. Leila de Lima was removed from the Senate floor and brought to her cell in Crame, the police camp, to await trial. That was four years ago.
Had the Senate defied the arbitrary orders and refused to surrender her, being one of its own, and kept her protected in its house, she might have had, at least, better lodgings, and from there she could have continued discharging her sworn duty to champion us.
But, its majority allied with the President, who himself happened to be Leila’s vengeful tormentor. The Senate, as a proper oversight fraternity, was not about to stand in the way.
In my recollection, only Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV stood up for her with any credible sense of fighting defiance—in fact, he has not let up to this day; the rest, to be kind, seemed too stunned at the brazenness of the act to react.
Trillanes knew their common enemy well; he knew that once De Lima was taken in, her freedom would be subject to Duterte’s whim, not the courts’ standards of justice. Sure enough, in spite of the obvious flimsiness of the case against her—conspiracy in drug trafficking—her pleas, even for her basic right to bail, have been denied.
Trillanes has been in jail himself. He went in as a leader of the reform-minded Magdalo group of soldiers who openly protested against Gloria Arroyo’s presidency. He won his first term as senator while in jail, got reelected for a last allowed term, and is now a university professor.
My husband, who, barely knowing Trillanes at the time, visited him in prison on his invitation for a professional chat, recalled during our own first visit with De Lima that, if she and Trillanes had been taken together, they’d have been next-door neighbors. Told of the observation when our visits with De Lima coincided, Trillanes may have been triggered to recall moments of his own seven years there—he got out on a pardon from President Benigno Aquino III.
One of the most critical voices against the Duterte regime, he has somehow avoided a second incarceration. In fact, the appellate court has just thrown out a government suit seeking to reopen the case in which he gained his pardon. We could probably build some hope around that and extend it for De Lima. All of us, not only her, could certainly use some hope.
We started visiting her almost as soon as we heard it was allowed. It was on a Sunday that we first visited her in her necessarily intimate and closed surroundings—in fact, it is nearly always on a Sunday when we go. Our visits, as do those of others, more or less go this way:
Mass is said, a beautiful Mass made more so by moving shares from first-time visitors, telling her and themselves why, in the first place, they have come at all. Her response is the last share and always proves worth waiting for.
The homilies are most often delivered by her spiritual advisers whom we knew for some time and have grown extremely fond and proud of—Fathers Robert, Flavi and Bert, our own modern-day Gomburza.
At the end, De Lima’s special child, Israel, a young handsome adult in years, delivers a short thank-you speech, ending it with kiss blown toward Leila and the words “I love you, Mama,” then going over to her to give her a hug, with a superhero peeking out of his pocket and sometimes getting squeezed in the embrace.
My husband and I somehow have become hooked on the Sunday company at Crame, and home-cooked Bicolano dishes for lunch after Mass. We started coming once a month. After some time, we realized we had been meeting some of the nicest people there, heard some of the most relevant homilies and the most profound shares from strangers now turned comrades under the banner of truth, freedom, justice and country. Friends we invited to come along have become similarly hooked themselves.
Anyone of the slightest patriotic sense cannot but see Leila de Lima as the woman on the nation’s conscience. That’s why before I go to bed, I pray for her. Imagining her alone and separated all these years from her Israel and the rest of her family and friends, and even her dog, simply breaks my mother’s heart—indeed, she is young enough to be my daughter. Now that the pandemic has given the regime an excuse to stop visits, I send Leila little things certain Sundays, like cookies with a long shelf life—she has no refrigerator either.
One Sunday I took the opportunity to ask Trillanes, himself young enough to be my son, looking neat and newly bathed despite the heat, if there was any chance at all Leila might be freed, for, after all, it had been too long and the cases against her were looking weaker by every trial day, nay, more ridiculous. Surely, the increasing international pressure for her release, even for humanitarian reasons, might work, I told him.
He looked at me with sad eyes and, shaking his head slowly, signaling his own pessimism, proceeded to say, “Personal kasi ‘to kay Duterte.”
I could only say to myself, how can everything be up to one man?
Anyone of the slightest patriotic sense cannot but see her as the woman on the nation’s conscience—and only he stood up for her