MANILA - One cannot claim to fight for human lives by trading off rights, Sen. Leila De Lima claimed Saturday after an international federation of liberal political parties recognized her for advancing human rights in the country.
The Liberal International had awarded the "Prize for Freedom" to De Lima, a fierce critic of the government's anti-narcotics drive who has been jailed on drug charges since February 2017.
In a statement read at the awarding ceremony by her brother, Vicente De Lima, the senator said human life and human rights "are not opposites."
"There is no dichotomy between the two... One cannot be defended by trading it off with the other," she said.
"One cannot claim to fight for human lives, while their hands are stained red with the blood of their victims... Anyone who suggests otherwise is no better than a wolf that pretends to be a shepherd, and delivers the flock to slaughter," she added.
De Lima did not say who she was referring to.
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, said in his State of the Nation Address last week that the war on drugs will be as "relentless" and "chilling" as the day it started despite the protest of rights activists, who condemned the killings under the campaign.
"Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives," he told rights groups, whom he accused of failing to criticize "drug-lordism, drug dealing and drug pushing."
De Lima, in her statement, likened "dictators, oppressive leaders and human rights abusers" to natural disasters.
"They come bringing violence, destruction and terror to the populace. When they leave, they leave behind devastated nations, dead and dying people, hopelessness, helplessness, and a precarious world order," she said.
Rights defenders, she said, are similar to watchtowers that call out warnings on destructive forces; the breakwater that protects the people from the pounding waves; and the levee that regulates the flow of raging floods, that they may not devastate people’s lives, property and security.
Institutions like the International Criminal Court (ICC), meanwhile, are "our disaster insurance" and the "mechanism by which we can bring both accountability and redress for the victims," she said.
"Luckily for us, unlike natural disasters, the enemies of democracy are not irrepressible. They may be megalomaniacs, but they are mere humans who fear free-thinking people whom they cannot control. Being mortal, they can be stopped and brought to justice," she said.
The ICC has started a 'preliminary examination' on the charges filed by lawyer Jude Sabio against Duterte in connection with the administration's campaign against illegal drugs.
Duterte ordered the country's withdrawal from the international tribunal in March.
Police said at least 4,200 Filipinos have died in the anti-narcotics crackdown since May 2016 after fighting back against authorities. Rights groups, however, say the death toll is 3 times higher and does not include killings by alleged state-sponsored "vigilantes."