IRIGA CITY - The family home of detained Sen. Leila de Lima in this quiet Bicol city bustled with activity Wednesday morning as her relatives and neighbors prepared to welcome seven opposition senatorial bets and lawyers who have helped in the lawmaker's case.
De Lima’s younger sister, 56-year-old Caroline, woke up at 2 a.m. to oversee preparations at the nearly 70-year-old bungalow in Barangay San Agustin.
“Na-miss namin ‘yung ganitong madaming tao because our parents were very sociable people,” Caroline told ABS-CBN News.
(We missed having many people over because our parents were very sociable people.)
De Lima's late father Vicente was an elections commissioner while her mother, now 86 and afflicted with dementia, is a retired teacher. She is currently in Manila.
“Gusto ko 'yung maraming tao dito, the community got involved sa paglilinis, sa paghahanda, but I’m sad that she (Leila de Lima) is not here,” she said of her sister, who has been detained on drug charges since February 2017.
(I like it when there are many people here, the community got involved in cleaning, preparing. but I'm sad that she is not here.)
De Lima, a staunch administration critic who has called her incarceration "political persecution," is giving support to the opposition ticket even while detained.
In a statement issued from her cell, De Lima called on Bicolanos to rally behind the Otso Diretso slate.
"That’s why I’m fervently appealing to my fellow Bicolanos and Bicolanas: Kaipuhan ta matabangan sinda (Let us help them so they can help us)."
"In choosing our new set of leaders, let us please be mindful of what the coming elections really mean for all of us. It should neither be a popularity contest, a showbiz bonanza, nor a public auction," she said.
DINING WITH THE DE LIMAS
De Lima, herself an avid cook, personally chose the menu and gave instructions on how to welcome the opposition slate, one of the senator’s immediate relatives told ABS-CBN News on condition of anonymity.
The detained senator, through her staff, asked her relatives to prepare a spread of local delicacies including pansit bato, taba (dried fish), pinuyos (rice wrapped in banana leaf), ibos (ricecake-dipped in sugar or chocolate), and biniribid (local version of churros).
Otso Diretso bets Gary Alejano, Bam Aquino, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay, Romulo Macalintal and Erin Tañada also feasted on other Filipino breakfast staples like tocino, longganisa and sinangag. Former senator Mar Roxas was absent.
De Lima, in a message sent through her staff, even requested separate food preparation for Gutoc, who is a Muslim and may not eat pork.
“We underestimated the number. We prepared for a hundred but 500 came,” the relative said.
DEFENDING DE LIMA
De Lima’s aunt, 82-year-old Felicitas De Lima, was in tears as she welcomed former Solicitor General and Otso Diretso candidate Hilbay into their home.
“I don't know how to thank Atty. Hilbay. Despite the unpopularity of Sen. De Lima, Atty. Hilbay stands by her,” Felicitas told ABS-CBN News.
“I am overflowing with gratitude. I feel so honored that he came all the way here. He’s done so much for Leila,” she said.
Hilbay and co-candidate Diokno are among lawyers working on De Lima’s case.
Hilbay had also worked closely with De Lima during the Aquino administration when he was Solicitor General and she was Justice Secretary.
“Regardless of the merits of the case, defending Leila was a risk,” Hilbay said.
“The biggest constitutional law case in so far as due process is concerned was her case. I teach constitutional law and you need to walk the talk,” he said when asked why he took the case.
The Otso Diretso candidates said they were not worried about being associated with one of Duterte’s political nemeses.
“Kaming Otso Diretso ay nananawagan na panahon nang palayain si Sen. De Lima,” said Tañada, who is a Liberal Party stalwart like De Lima.
(We in Otso Diretso are calling for Sen. Leila de Lima's release.)
“Leila is wrongfully in jail. She shouldn’t be in jail,” Diokno said.
“I just want to assure them [De Lima family] that we will continue to fight for her,” he said.
“The political winds can easily change. The next 89 days would be an opportunity to highlight what we really stand for,” Hilbay said.
Defending the detained lawmaker “places any lawyer under special burden” but “history will judge us really well,” he said.
De Lima’s younger sister assured her guests that backing the Bicolana senator would earn them votes in Iriga City.
“Nobody believes those drug allegations about her (Leila de Lima) here. Kilala nila kami, ang pamilya namin (They know us, our family),” Caroline said.
“She’s (Leila de Lima) not unpopular here. Not in this neck of the woods,” she said.