MANILA - Former President Benigno Aquino III has lauded detained Sen. Leila de Lima for being a woman of principle, assuring his former justice secretary that she is not alone in her battle.
"Makikita naman natin: Si Leila, klarong-klarong may prinsipyo. Sa pinagdadaanan niya, malinaw na tayo ang kaniyang ipinaglalaban. Mainam namang maipadama natin kay Leila na sa labang ito, hindi siya nag-iisa," Aquino said in his message to De Lima in her first electronic book “Dispatches from Crame I.”
In his message, the former president also spoke of growing up being taught to follow a leader who has “clear convictions” and directions, even as he noted that having a leader who dilly-dallies is not good.
"'Nung lumalaki ako, binigyang-diin sa akin na, ang pinuno dapat may klarong paninindigan. May direksyong patutunguhan. Kaya madali at buo natin siyang masusundan. Mahirap magkaroon ng pinuno na ang posisyon ay papalit-palit sa magkabilang-dulo,” he said.
Responding to former president Aquino’s statement on De Lima, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque noted that the senator “is not fighting for her principle and was not detained because of her political beliefs.”
“The lady senator was arrested and incarcerated because of serious drug charges where she was accused of allowing the illegal drug trade to proliferate inside the [New] Bilibid Prison when she was the DOJ (Department of Justice) Secretary,” Roque said in a statement.
De Lima, among the administration's most vocal critics, was arrested in February 2017 on drug charges that she has denied and branded as "political persecution."
The senator's book, launched last month in time for her first year in detention, contains over 100 handwritten dispatches released during her incarceration. The notes include personal musings, comments on her court cases, and statements on state affairs.
Even in detention, the senator has not held back on criticizing President Duterte and senior government officials over the administration’s policies, among them the war on drugs and the Philippines’ rapprochement with China despite the latter’s continued aggressive acts in the South China Sea.
In the book, Aquino administration officials and several political figures also heaped praises on the senator and gave her words of encouragement.
“Despite the trumped-up charges and a system undermined by fascism and fear, Leila has stood as a beacon of light and a tower of fortitude to those who seemed to have lost hope in this present darkness," former presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
Former deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, said: “Senator De Lima is true courage exemplified: continuing to speak the bitter truth to power, despite being unjustly deprived of her liberty.”
Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said De Lima’s detention has not prevented her "fearless advocacy for rule of law and human rights" from inspiring the local and international communities alike.
"Her voice echoes far beyond her prison walls and is an inspiration to those both in the Philippines and beyond who seek accountability for the thousands of deaths linked to the Duterte government's murderous 'war on drugs," Kine said.
Dr. Sylvia "Guy" Claudio, a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in Psychology, described in the book’s foreword that De Lima’s writings were “dangerous because if you dare to read through the pages, you may find that the Senator is no monster. That she is a human being with equal nationalism, equal love for the poor, equal rights to fairness and justice. You may realize that she is not the monster they have painted.”
"In which case, she may be innocent as she explains so eloquently here, as she has always proclaimed herself to be. At the very least, you may agree with her as all human rights institutions, foreign and local, have agreed so far, that her rights are being violated. The choice is yours,” she added.