IS it the media or the event? Do we blame the dancer or the dance?
By the time Senator Leila de Lima was arrested by the authorities yesterday, I was weary of the story and the spectacle.
Philippine media are so adept in covering breaking news blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute, you long for the moment when you can no longer hear or see the thing.
Since O J. Simpson made his mad dash for freedom and was pursued in the streets of Los Angeles in 1994, every happening involving a celebrity (political, cultural, or just plain notorious) has become a media event in this country.
I should not really complain because I probably contributed my share to creating De Lima’s celebrity and notoriety (two columns on her in the span of months). Without my two cents, and the two cents of others, De Lima’s arrest would have been an event as humdrum as the arrest of anyone who runs afoul of the law.
To De Lima’s credit, it was her public persona and melodramatics that impelled the wide-ranging coverage of
her arrest. It’s not her fault that every politician and public official sought to have their two cents quoted by the media. She had nothing to do with Vice President Leni Robredo’s depiction of her arrest as “political harassment”; nor did she ask Senator Francis Pangilinan to posture on the legality of her arrest.
When a happening becomes a media event, everyone wants their two cents to be quoted. It’s an opportunity to land in the media.
Saga of De Lima vs Duterte
The subtext of De Lima’s arrest is that it is a continuation of a decade-long joust between Leila de Lima and Rodrigo Duterte.
In an enlightening report, Agence France Presse (AFP) has commendably presented a chronology of a curious relationship between the senator and the President. Until I read the report, I had no idea their evidently licit relationship stretched so far back.
AFP reported that De Lima has waged “a decade-long crusade to expose Duterte as the leader of death squads that have killed thousands of people.”
She contends that the Duterte government has manufactured the drug charges against her to silence her investigations into the killings that were allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as mayor of Davao City.
The news service then listed “the key moments” in the battle between De Lima and Duterte, to wit:
De Lima, then head of the government’s Commission on Human Rights, flies to Davao and begins a public inquiry into the alleged death squads in the city.
“I am bothered by statements attributed to him (Duterte)… which tend to condone this phenomenon of illegal or vigilante-style killings,” De Lima says of the inquiry.
To this, Duterte responds: “If there is an iota of evidence that we are involved in the killings, I will submit to you, at the end of the day, my resignation as city mayor.”
The rights commission, after De Lima stepped down to become justice secretary, finds that “there was a systematic practice of extrajudicial killings” in Davao.
De Lima then orders the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is part of the justice department, to launch a probe into the alleged death squads.
Duterte is elected President after pledging during the campaign to kill 100,000 criminals. De Lima separately wins a seat in the Senate.
Days after the election, the justice department announces that it has closed its investigation into the death squads because the last witness had fled a safe house run by the department’s witness protection program.
Duterte accuses De Lima of running a drug trafficking ring with criminals inside the nation’s biggest prison to help fund her Senate election campaign.
De Lima, as head of the Senate justice and human rights committee, launches public hearings on alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Duterte’s drug war. A self-declared Davao Death Squad assassin testifies in the Senate that he and others killed about 1,000 people from 1998 to 2013 on Duterte’s orders. Duterte allies in the Senate depose De Lima as committee head days later.
Several drug gang leaders at the country’s main prison testify at the House of Representatives and repeat Duterte’s allegations that De Lima and her driver-bodyguard engaged in drugs trafficking.
The Senate drug-war inquiry, now chaired by a Duterte ally, concludes that the President and the state are not responsible for extra-judicial killings.
February 17, 2017
The justice department files drug trafficking charges against De Lima. Four days later, De Lima brands Duterte a “serial killer” and calls for the people to show courage and oust him.
February 24, 2017
De Lima is arrested.
For De Lima and Duterte, the idiom “no love lost” is most appropriate.
The idiom means there are “no feelings of respect, admiration, or affection” in their curious relationship. It won’t surprise me if each says a prayer every night that the other would die.
Rigor of due process
The De Lima case will now go through the rigor of due process.
The senator’s lawyers will demand that De Lima should be brought to a judge by the government official or agency confining her, and that the official justify her confinement.
Under constitutional law, due process provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied equal protection of the laws.”
There are two kinds of due process:
1. Substantive due process—it requires the intrinsic validity of the law in interfering with the rights of the person to life, liberty or property.
2. Procedural due process—this means that the law hears before it condemns, proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial.
Assuming that the Department of Justice can justify the arrest and confinement of De Lima, her case will then go to trial.
The contest then becomes a battle of proof and legal arguments
Can the government prove its charge that De Lima engaged in the illegal trafficking of drugs within the national penitentiary (New Bilibid Prisons) and used drug money to fund her campaign for the Senate?
The defense will seek to poke holes and destroy the government’s case. De Lima will turn to human rights lawyers to marshal her defense. She will count on the support of her Liberal Party colleagues and the yellows to help her weather her ordeal.
It is a cornerstone of our system of criminal justice that a defendant is “innocent until proven guilty.”
The presumption of innocence is essential, because the burden of proof rightly belongs to the party that makes the accusation.
The defendant does not have to prove anything. The defense may even rely on just raising doubts about the prosecution’s case.
In the De Lima case, the testimony of inmates (drug lords) will interestingly be crucial for the government’s case.
Stakes for Liberals and Duterte
The prestige and standing of many will hang on how the De Lima case is prosecuted and resolved.
The Liberal Party and the yellows have stakes in this legal battle. Their potency and cohesion as the political opposition will be tested during the trial.
De Lima’s conviction will enfeeble Liberal opposition in more ways than just removing one voice in the Senate.
The heart of Liberal opposition to Duterte could sustain lasting damage.
Duterte and his administration have equally high stakes in the De Lima case.
For Duterte, De Lima’s trial in open court will manifest the effectiveness of his government. It shows that DU30 has seized the engines of power in government. If De Lima is convicted of the charges, it will be a victory of surpassing import for the President and for his war on drugs.