MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – Strong-armed President Rodrigo Duterte might be fresh from victory after the Philippine Senate voted to demote a vocal critic, but on her way out the door Sen. Leila De Lima warned Duterte to not rest on his laurels.
On September 19, the Philippine Senate voted Senator Leila De Lima out of her chairmanship of the Justice and Human Rights Committee, accusing her of being “biased.” The prior month, De Lima spearheaded an investigation of the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and drug dealers in the southern Philippines city of Davao, a place Duterte served mayor for 22 years.
On September 15, De Lima called on one of her chief witnesses, a self-confessed “executioner” of the vigilante group known as the Davao Death Squad, Edgar Matobato, to testify. In his statement, Matobato claimed that Duterte was heavily involved in the summary execution of over 1,000 suspects, even personally offing a Justice Department agent with an Uzi. Duterte and his crew, as expected, denied everything.
De Lima’s investigation of the extrajudicial murders in Davao had an obvious connection to the president’s most recent nationwide war on drugs. Since his inauguration, Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign has claimed over 2,000 victims, the majority of whom were reportedly executed by police or vigilantes. Duterte has encouraged such killings, calling upon citizens to aid the police in whatever way they can. He even urged the public to take matters into their own hands: “Do it yourself if you have the gun,” he said.
The rest of the world has looked on in various states of shock or admiration, but international outrage has had little effect. De Lima – with her staunch efforts to uncover the bloody truth – was one of Duterte’s most outspoken critics. With the rest of the world seemingly silent, De Lima’s departure from the Justice Committee could mean that thousands of slain men and women have lost their champion.
On September 21, De Lima delivered a powerful speech addressing the accusations made against her, including charges she accepted bribes and carried on an affair with her driver. But she also gave the president her thoughts as a member of the Senate.
Near the end of her oration, De Lima cast herself in the role of the Roman slave, riding in a chariot behind a Roman general, fresh from victory and drunk on glory. “Look behind you,” she told Duterte. “And remember that you are only a man.” In her final words, De Lima warns the president: Power fades, but truth and justice will prevail.