MANILA - A word war between detained Senator Leila de Lima and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque is escalating, with the latter wishing for the neophyte lawmaker to “spend the rest of your life in jail.”
Roque made the statement after De Lima called him out for “[selling] his own identity in exchange for a possible Senate run.”
“I really do feel sorry for Harry Roque. He used to have some semblance of credibility. He held himself out as a defender of the oppressed; a human rights lawyer. Now, it seems he has sold his own identity in exchange for a possible Senate run,” De Lima said in a dispatch written on Monday.
“Mr. Roque, I understand, aspires to one day call himself a Senator. There is nothing wrong with that per se. But just because he has bartered his dignity and reputation as a human rights lawyer, in exchange for a senatorial berth in the President’s party, it doesn’t mean that everyone are willing to go down that path.”
Critics have been dismayed with Roque, once described as a human rights lawyer, for taking on the job of being President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson and adviser on human rights despite allegations of human rights violation against the chief executive.
The latest exchange between De Lima and Roque erupted after the latter greeted the neophyte senator “happy anniversary” on the first year of her detention.
“Happy, indeed. I am sure Malacañang is happy to see me suffer. But I don’t feel sorry for myself. I know I am here because I stood for what is right,” De Lima said.
De Lima and Roque have long been at odds, including differences over the handling of the Maguindanao massacre case when the senator was still Justice Secretary and Roque was private prosecutor representing victim's families.
In September 2016, the Kabayan Party-list investigated Roque for his "indecent" questions about De Lima's private life during a House of Representatives hearing into the drug trade at the national penitentiary.
In February 2017, Roque filed an ethics complaint against De Lima over her alleged drug involvement.
Last December 2017, Roque also castigated De Lima for saying that she had received a rosary from Pope Francis, saying "the Pope does not know the true nature of De Lima’s character.”
“We just have to look at Senator Leila De Lima's drug cases which were based on the testimonies of credible witnesses and documentary evidence,” he said.
De Lima, among the administration's most vocal critics, has been detained on drug charges she has decried as political persecution. Throughout her detention, she has continued to speak out about state affairs through issuing handwritten dispatches.
A former Justice Secretary and Commission on Human Rights Chair, De Lima was arrested on Feb. 24, 2017 due to her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary.
She has denied the allegations, saying her incarceration was meant to silence her.
“The plain truth is I am under detention, not because I am the 'mother of all drug lords'—ha!—but because Duterte feared being held accountable for the bloodshed he had brought down with his war on drugs, and he—and his allies who have been at the wrong end of a DOJ investigation while I was SOJ (Secretary of Justice)—have been frothing at the mouth to get even,” De Lima said.
“So, Mr. Roque may pretend all he wants that he speaks truths—but that is all it is: a pretense. Slowly, eventually, inevitably, the Truth will set me free. But it will shackle Roque and his cohorts in shame. I am innocent. They are not.”