WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
On October 9th, an ex-senator was used in a hostage situation while prisoners were attempting a jailbreak in the Republic of the Philippines. The senator’s name is Leila de Lima, and she was imprisoned on drug charges which many believe are false. Some think she was actually imprisoned for being an outspoken critic of the last President.
She has been in prison for five years for opposing president Duterte’s war on drugs. However, there have been multiple calls for her release from prison. US lawmakers and European Parliament members are among these people.
Two witnesses recanted their testimonies, claiming that they were forced by the government to do so. One, an admitted drug lord, had claimed that he delivered bribes to her from other drug lords. He has since confessed that the police intimidated him into giving that testimony, and that it was false.
WHY WAS SHE REALLY IMPRISONED?
Leila de Lima has been critical of the former president for a long time. In 2009, de Lima, the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, investigated the Davao Death Squad of Davao City. Rodrigo Duterte was mayor of Davao City at that time. The Davao Death Squad was responsible for hundreds of hits carried out, including “alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children” as well as others. As mayor, Duterte often defended and justified the acts of the Davao Death Squad, claiming they were helping clean up the streets.
Once Duterte was elected President in 2016, Senator de Lima became even more concerned about his methods for fighting the war on drugs. It has been reported that police officers were paid up to $300 per drug suspect killed. Over 12,000 people were killed in the campaign’s first year alone. After opening a senate investigation into these drug killings, she was arrested on drug charges. This was in February of 2017, over five years ago. She has yet to stand trial.
The current president, Marcos, tweeted that he would “check on [de Lima] and ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention center” ignoring pleas for her release entirely.
BACKGROUND ON THE NEW PRESIDENT
There was a peaceful transition of power earlier this year in the Philippines when Marcos won the election. Duterte had announced that he would be retiring from politics the year prior, allowing for some form of democracy to continue.
The current president, Marcos, is the son of the dictator who took over the Philippines in the sixties and held power for two decades. President Marcos has defended the work of his late father time and time again, claiming that he had the strength to help the country when no one else could. His admiration of dictatorship should not go unnoticed and could be a potential disaster to the Philippines.
His vice president is Sara Duterte, the daughter of former president Rodrigo Duterte. She is the youngest vice president the nation has had, and only the third woman. Though Marcos’ policies have not been outlined directly, it is assumed he will follow in the footsteps of these two predecessors and continue to consolidate power for the executive branch.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES?
Imprisonment of the opposition is nothing new in backsliding democracies, in fact, it is usually one of the biggest markers. What is unusual about this case is that it is not normally so obvious from the start. Additionally, with the retraction of multiple statements there has been no change in the status of de Lima’s case. This makes is even more abundantly clear that the people in power have no intention of giving her a fair trial, as it has been five years since her imprisonment. Furthermore, with calls from human rights groups and people in positions of power internationally for de Lima’s release, there has been no response from anyone.
Once President Marcos came to power earlier this year, the people started asking questions about de Lima’s position again, but there was no answer.
This hostage situation, ironically, may be the most helpful thing to her case so far, as she has been moved back onto the global stage. People from around the world are again looking into her case and calling for her freedom.
Unfortunately, the president’s tweet has been the only measurable response seen by the government of the Philippines. His statement does not give much hope, as it only referenced her safety. It has been reported that the men in prison with her seemingly did not wish to harm her; they only wanted to use her to gain their freedom. However, we will never know, as the man who held her hostage, as well as the other escapees, were shot dead almost immediately.
Seeing as Marcos is likely going to attempt advancements upon Duterte’s platform, having a strong opponent such as Leila de Lima in prison is nothing but helpful. This is not the first situation like this in the Philippines, and it will not be the last; it is merely the most notable example of opposition suppression.