As soon as the news came on Monday that Leila de Lima had been released on bail, I wanted to gather women friends to celebrate, to express relief that her almost seven years of detention had come to an end.
But then I realized that I didn’t know who in this City felt strongly about her case. I called friends in Manila instead, many of whom were part of EveryWoman, the network of organizations and individuals who, throughout the years, had been advocates for justice, and who provided Leila de Lima with support.
Every major international newspaper and TV networks carried the news of Leila de Lima’s release on bail. She had become a symbol of what was very wrong with the Duterte administration.
The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch were among the international bodies that long called for her release, with the latter describing “concocted evidence and the use of the machinery of an abusive state” to unjustly persecute and detain her. The European Commission Ambassador to the Philippines said that he was pleased at her release, and that it was a positive step towards the rule of law in this country.
Why was the lawyer, Senator, and former head of the Commission on Human Rights so attacked by Rodrigo Duterte? Because she was a critic of the administration’s deadly drug war that even the International Criminal Court was concerned about.
Also, as CHR head, de Lima had called for an investigation into the so-called Davao Death Squads even as Duterte himself had often bragged about personally killing suspected criminals.
Women were particularly incensed when, during House hearings on de Lima supposedly taking money from jailed drug lords, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez proposed to show sex tapes purportedly involving her, and that Duterte claimed to have watched.
“Slut-shaming” as a tool of a sick justice system? Well, very many women spoke up saying that if there were tapes, it was them on the tapes.
These Women for Leila understood themselves as not just championing a remarkable woman but as acting against a rotten political regime.
Women need a collective voice, but one that is informed, gender-aware, educated on issues, serious, interested in making a difference.
Even a cursory glance at public life shows where governance directions are off-track. It’s been a predominantly dynasty-building male ego-game for too long, with little of substance to show for it, time and resources wasted, younger generations demoralized, and dreaming of leaving the country.
I wonder how many women made it in the recent barangay and SK elections (also known as “money contests” according to almost everyone in my town, as well as the national Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.)
Regardless of how they came by their positions, the Department of Interior & Local Government or whoever will orient and train them on their functions and technical procedures would do well to also engage the academe, people’s organizations and NGOs to broaden their understanding of issues, goals, strategies, particularly along gender lines. That could lay the ground for a future women’s movement, along with other women who go beyond a traditional focus on personal or family concerns to engage with the wider community and governance issues.
In the meantime, it’s good to know Leila de Lima is free, one less high-profile politically- oppressed woman in this country, though not forgetting that our recent visitor Maria Ressa still is.
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