By tonight, our esteemed foreign guests would’ve witnessed how Senator Leila De Lima’s trial is being conducted, how she is being treated as an accused, and how the state has limited her freedom, even kept you, our foreign guests, from visiting her. All these despite the absence of not one gram of evidence and despite her being a low-flight risk.
By tonight, our visitors would’ve listened to the stories of the orphans and widows, siblings and mothers of ordinary Filipinos who have been killed in this government’s war on drugs.
By tonight, our visitors would’ve more than established the connection between Senator Leila De Lima’s imprisonment and her pushback against this bloody war.
Tonight, on the 520th day since she has been denied her freedoms, Senator Leila De Lima will receive the Liberal International Prize for Freedom.
Senator Leila De Lima will now join a list of freedom lovers and freedom fighters who have received the award — a select list that includes our beloved late President Corazon Aquino.
The award makes the most sense in the face of the most nonsensical excuses and twisted legal reasoning used to keep her in jail.
Since her detention on fabricated drug charges in February 24, 2017, Senator Leila has lived in a small cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center, made smaller by the fewer and fewer rights she is allowed to exercise. She is not allowed access to the internet. She has no access to a laptop. She has limited access to television.
In the few times I’ve visited her — too few I must admit, let me convey that she finds comfort in friends and family who come and break bread with her, hear mass with her, share stories and songs with her. Aside from her pet dogs, who occasionally visit her, she has befriended several stray cats, who have likely discovered a sanctuary in Senator Leila’s cell. Their cat instincts seem to know that with Senator Leila, their rights are cared for and their freedom assured.
Outside her cell, violation of human rights continues, recently with the government’s drive to haul loiterers off the streets and put them in congested jails. The killings continue, taking the lives of priests, local chief executives, and young children. Nearly all these crimes remain unsolved.
Impunity pervades our democratic institutions. Last month, our Chief Justice was ousted from her post by her colleagues, contrary to our Constitution, which clearly states that the Chief Justice may be removed only through an impeachment proceeding.
And against public sentiment, moves to amend our Constitution persist, raising fears of being deprived of the freedom to choose our leaders in scheduled elections.
While all these are happening, ordinary Filipinos are left without a choice but to plod on, enduring the higher costs of basic goods and services, including food and fuel, electricity and transport. Inflation in the last two years have nearly more than quadrupled. And this has had a big impact on the ordinary folk.
But the saddest, most unfortunate thing is that the killings are being normalized. People are being desensitized to the violence, to the killings, to the impunity.
Nevertheless, we continue to resist the prevailing darkness.
How? We begin with ourselves. As leaders, we have to inspire light, unleash both the wisdom and experience of our generation, and the boundless energy, inexhaustible creativity, and undying passion of our young people.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis noted that “The times in which we live demand that we develop a profound capacity of discernment” to guide us to life and to keep us from falling into the “culture of death.”
The light of discernment should lead us back to the people. This morning, the people who live in this culture and reality of death shared their lives with our foreign visitors.
Our own continuing conversations with the people led us to open the Liberal Party of the Philippines to ordinary folk, to non-politicians and help us move towards becoming a truly people’s party. This same light of discerning pointed us to life lessons of the past: that the people are the messiah. The people ousted Marcos, the dictator. The people ousted Erap, who was embroiled in, and later convicted of, plunder charges. The people rejected Arroyo, and the excesses and abuses of her regime in the midterm and end-of-term elections. The people chose President Noynoy Aquino and the people chose President Rodrigo Duterte.
Thus, it will be the people, inspired, organized, and mobilized down to the grassroots, who will resist the prevailing darkness brought upon the country. It will be the people who will undo the state of criminal violence and impunity that now covers our land. It will be the people who will raise awareness, who will save all of us, by choosing truth over lies, love over hate, sovereignty over subservience, freedom over tyranny, and the light over the prevailing darkness.
With much gratitude, we have the Liberal International Prize for Freedom Award, a huge torch that gives light to the unjust detention of Senator Leila, as well as to the cry for justice of the families of those killed in this senseless drug war — the children and partners, the siblings and parents left with the loss of their loved ones. Real people who live the pain of their curtailed rights and captured freedom.
We want the light on this truth: Freedom is the offspring of our struggles. Freedom is partner to our joys. Freedom shares the same home as our rights. And freedom nurtures our future.
Because the Filipino people, exemplified by Senator Leila, to borrow from “Invictus,” is of “unconquerable soul…Under the bludgeonings of chance / Our head is bloody, but unbowed.” As we have shown in the past, we Filipinos shall overcome the darkness of despair, suffering, and horrible abuses that now engulfs the nation.
We have done so in the past. And we will most certainly do so in the future.
One with the people, in unwavering faith and relentless determination, we will carry this torch as we tirelessly work towards Sen. Leila’s and as well as our people’s inevitable march to freedom.
Thank you Liberal International for this award and good evening to everyone.