Manila, Philippines – Leila de Lima was launched from detention final month into what the previous Philippines senator calls “a complete new world”.
In 2016, then-President Rodrigo Duterte promised to “destroy” de Lima, one of many loudest critics of his lethal drug battle. The president’s supporters started focusing on the first-term senator and former human rights commissioner – ridiculing her for an alleged romantic affair together with her driver, and accusing her of involvement in drug trafficking.
In February 2017, she was arrested on drug expenses she denies and that worldwide observers have mentioned are politically motivated.
“I had this deep sense of disbelief,” de Lima informed Al Jazeera. “I by no means thought that Mr Duterte would go to that extent, that size, of jailing me. I believed it might simply be each day vilification, private assaults, assaults in opposition to my womanhood.”
In 2022, Duterte’s time period got here to an finish and he was changed by Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Whereas Marcos has deserted a lot of Duterte’s incendiary rhetoric in the direction of critics, drug battle killings and human rights abuses have continued below his administration.
De Lima was lastly granted bail final month in spite of everything however one of many witnesses who testified in opposition to her recanted their statements; some have mentioned they gave pressured testimonies. Duterte has now left politics, though his daughter, Sara, is vice chairman. Each might be topic to an investigation into the drug battle by the Worldwide Prison Courtroom, although Duterte pulled Manila out of the courtroom in 2019.
A member of the opposition Liberal Get together, de Lima spoke at size about Marcos, whose alliance with the Duterte household is starting to fracture publicly. Marcos is now finding out cooperation with the ICC after insisting earlier this 12 months he would shut out its investigators.
De Lima, 64, says she plans to return to her non-public regulation follow and has no plans to run for workplace after shedding a Senate reelection bid from jail final 12 months. However she refuses to stay silent, promising to not give her political enemies the “satisfaction” after her extended detention. “I’d ask myself, is it price it?” she mentioned. “The reply was at all times sure.”
This interview has been edited for size and readability.
Al Jazeera: How are you adjusting to freedom?
Leila de Lima: I’m progressively adjusting and getting my bearings again. There’s a sense of disorientation after spending virtually seven years in closed, constricted, confined quarters.
It was painful for me to be away from my household and mates. There have been nights that I’d actually cry. My mum [who suffers from dementia] didn’t know I used to be in jail. What she knew was that I used to be in the USA on examine depart.
It was merely hurtful and revolting, on the similar time, as a result of I didn’t should be in jail.
Al Jazeera: What did Duterte hope to attain by arresting you?
Leila de Lima: He destroyed my public persona and my political life as a result of so many individuals believed him. And that was, if I’ll say so, an excellent technique on his half, as a result of [he and his allies] thought few individuals would consider these accusations about my alleged drug hyperlinks. In order that they considered first demeaning me and destroying my womanhood in order that extra individuals would consider their accusations.
It was so foul, it was so despicable of him to look into my non-public life, utilizing that and demeaning my particular person, my character, my popularity.
Al Jazeera: You obtained intensive help from overseas, however much less so within the Philippines. Have been you stunned?
Leila de Lima: It was anticipated. I anticipated most in Congress, and even the Supreme Courtroom, to be cowed. And the help of the worldwide neighborhood was additionally anticipated as a result of Duterte was not precisely the favorite of democratic international locations. I simply occurred to be the image of opposition in opposition to his drug battle, this murderous drug battle.
I need the world to at all times be watching our nation as a result of it helped. One thing worse may have been carried out to me had been it not for the curiosity of the worldwide neighborhood.
Al Jazeera: Duterte and his allies habitually used misogynistic and gendered language to assault you and different girls who opposed him. What has made such assaults so efficient within the Philippines?
Leila de Lima: It’s nonetheless a male-dominated society. The machismo tradition remains to be there. We see very profitable girls in virtually all fields, but it surely’s nonetheless a problem for us to be recognised for our personal deserves, not for our sexuality. Girls have extra empathy – it might be a extra very best society if extra girls leaders had been in authorities.
After Duterte’s assaults, I received greater than 2,000 hate messages on my cellular phone. Unprintable phrases. So I needed to eliminate my cellular phone.
Al Jazeera: How did you react as you noticed these ways from inside detention?
Leila de Lima: He triggered a number of hurt to this nation. He has demolished establishments, he has co-opted establishments, ruined our cultural values. However I by no means misplaced religion within the Filipino individuals, simply as I didn’t lose religion within the justice system.
I nervous concerning the desensitisation of the individuals, the insanity of encouraging killings and never observing the rule of regulation and due course of. I used to be alarmed that so few individuals had been standing up in opposition to him.
Al Jazeera: Has that desensitisation carried over into the current below Marcos?
Leila de Lima: There at the moment are some developments that present we at the moment are within the normalisation course of below the brand new administration. The strategy to the drug downside has drastically modified, from [extrajudicial] and state-inspired killings to a extra humane strategy to the battle on medicine. And there’s additionally some democratic house now. There’s much less repression and fewer harassment of critics and dissenters.
I’d wish to consider it’s a constructive pattern. We’ve to dismantle the unhealthy legacies of the Duterte regime, particularly within the space of human rights. Additionally, veering away from China and going again to our conventional allies is a really constructive improvement.
Al Jazeera: Once you had been launched, you thanked Marcos for “respecting the independence of the judiciary”. Do you suppose there’s nonetheless work to be carried out?
Leila de Lima: There’s nonetheless work to be carried out. However this administration simply needs to be clear in its respect for the independence of the judiciary. Duterte would at all times attempt to co-opt the judiciary, such because the elimination [in 2018] of Chief Justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno from the Supreme Courtroom.
I don’t suppose there’s any nation with an ideal justice system. However my case has been a visual instance of how an unbiased judiciary can yield very constructive outcomes.
Al Jazeera: In September, activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro accused the navy of forcibly abducting them. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has publicly questioned their story, regardless of presumably being neutral, and their lawyer has accused the Supreme Courtroom of failing to behave after they filed a safety order. Ought to the Marcos administration be extra proactive in such instances in making certain judicial independence?
Leila de Lima: In fact, this administration ought to be extra proactive in the whole lot. It’s beset with a number of challenges. And the remnants of the previous regime are nonetheless there. So if the seeds are nonetheless there, and if nothing a lot is finished to eliminate them, then you’ll be able to count on the previous methods to be revived.
The Nationwide Process Power to Finish Native Communist Armed Battle [alleged to play a large role in the abduction] ought to be dismantled straight away. It has served no goal besides to sow disunity and encourage human rights violations. That’s why we’ve got the instances of Jhed and Jonila.
Al Jazeera: How effectively have you learnt President Marcos?
Leila de Lima: I don’t know him, I simply know him because the son of the previous dictator. We met as soon as [in 2016], and we hardly talked.
I simply know him as a president now. And I’ve been observing him. He’s making an attempt his greatest, I believe, to chop himself from the legacy and stigma of his father. Though they’re in no way acknowledging that, they’re not apologetic about it. However he’s making an attempt as a lot as potential to construct his personal picture.
We talked over the cellphone after I used to be taken hostage in jail. He requested how I used to be and mentioned he may switch me to a safer place, however I mentioned I’d somewhat keep in my detention quarters. He mentioned he would ensure that my quarters had been safer, and certain sufficient, they bolstered my safety there.
Al Jazeera: Marcos Jr’s reluctance to acknowledge the atrocities of his father’s martial rule has led critics to fret his presidency doesn’t bode effectively for democracy within the Philippines. Ought to he do extra to distance himself from his father?
Leila de Lima: Sure. It’s fairly robust on his half. He had little political expertise. He wants extra or higher advisers round him, authorized and political advisers and consultants. And he should get his priorities straight, should actually attend to the challenges of the financial system, to inflation. It’s robust on his half as a result of he’s making an attempt to construct his personal title.
Al Jazeera: As president, Duterte embraced the legacy of Marcos Sr, which many consider paved the best way for his son to turn out to be president. Is it truthful to say this presidency wouldn’t exist with out the one earlier than it?
Leila de Lima: What is obvious to me is that it was an alliance of comfort. They wanted one another. Duterte would have wished his daughter to be the candidate, however [former President] Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cast a partnership [where Marcos and Sara Duterte would share a ticket] as a result of [Liberal Party candidate] Leni Robredo was having a robust displaying with voters. It was a formidable alliance.
Al Jazeera: With Marcos in energy, that alliance is now beginning to fracture. Is there some extent the place, simply as Marcos and Duterte wanted one another, Marcos might have to show to Duterte’s critics, akin to your self and Maria Ressa?
Leila de Lima: That is still to be seen. All of it will depend on what values we are able to generally share. Proper now, we’re sharing these values, these targets, particularly within the matter of the ICC investigation and the human rights side of this nation.
So for so long as we share these beliefs and people values, there’s at all times that risk. We’re not ruling that out. And for so long as he treads the best path of governance, there’s the probability that among the help shall be there.
However we nonetheless contemplate ourselves, the Liberal Get together, because the opposition. We aren’t that noisy as a result of we’re nonetheless observing him. However we are able to see the distinction from Duterte. That’s why we can not brazenly be hostile to him at this level.
Al Jazeera: Do you suppose Duterte supporters might break from Marcos over a possible ICC investigation?
Leila de Lima: There’s at all times that risk. However we are able to see the weakening of the Duterte affect. He was perceived to be invincible. However we are able to see now that he’s not. We are able to say the identical factor with Sara. She might not be that highly effective. When her father’s affect weakens, then that goes together with her.
Al Jazeera: What kind of position would you play in an ICC investigation?
Leila de Lima: Each advisory and proactive. It will depend on what the ICC wants from me.
Al Jazeera: Final week, a bunch of households of drug battle victims launched an announcement by their attorneys, saying: “We’d not have wanted the ICC had the Philippine authorities squarely addressed the battle on medicine. But it surely didn’t, and has not.” Certainly, since Marcos took energy in June 2022, there have been no convictions in what might be as much as 30,000 deaths.
Leila de Lima: There’s no argument that the justice system is working. We’ve been investigating already, but it surely’s very poor. The ICC is keen and really a lot able to doing these investigations. And nothing was occurring insofar as the upper echelons of these liable for the killings, no authorities or home authority was investigating Duterte and Senator Ronald dela Rosa [previously Duterte’s police chief and top enforcer of the war on drugs].
The households of the drug battle victims have each cause to complain and be pissed off about all of it.
Al Jazeera: Ought to Marcos have ordered investigations into the drug battle upon taking energy?
Leila de Lima: Sure, that’s the very best scenario. That’s what we had been anticipating when the brand new administration got here in. However as I mentioned, a couple of 12 months, and there’s solely an investigation into low-level perpetrators. We’ve not seen something greater than that.
So it might be too late now. The ICC is at an extra stage of its investigation. So [deferring to the ICC] is cheap, it’s sensible, and it’s retaining with the dictates of justice and accountability.
The issue is simply how quickly the ICC investigation can transfer and end in a concrete improvement, just like the issuance of a warrant of arrest. That will make individuals consider the ICC is severe, and that its investigation is one thing we are able to stay up for.
Al Jazeera: To you, would the prosecution of Duterte by the ICC really feel like the start of a therapeutic course of?
Leila de Lima: He needs to be made accountable for what he did to me. I’m not a vindictive particular person; it’s not for vengefulness. It’s a matter of justice. I’m a sufferer of gross injustice.
I should be totally vindicated. I would like individuals to know the reality about my innocence. I would like individuals to know the way and what he has carried out to me. So full vindication is what I’m after.