Will De Lima’s arrest rouse opposition?
Image Source: Rappler.com

It is ironic that on the day the Filipino people were commemorating the EDSA People Power revolt that restored freedom and democracy in the Philippines, the foremost critic of the present administration would be arrested and detained in an obvious attempt to stifle the opposition and bring back the country to the dark days of the dictatorship.

The arrest of Senator Leila de Lima, who was the first to warn that the country was on a “slippery slope to tyranny” on the early days of the administration of President Duterte, on obviously trumped-up drug charges is a direct threat to all those who would dare cross the path of this administration.

“The message was loud and clear: Anyone who dares speak dissent is not safe,” said Vice President Leni Robredo, who is finally assuming the role of the opposition leader. “Some leaders want to raise the fist of authoritarianism, to sow fear and discord among ourselves, to divide us with lies, violence and bloodshed. It has begun.”

Indeed, the slide to tyranny has begun.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo denied that political persecution was involved and said that De Lima’s arrest merely showed that “the law is enforced regardless of who the subject of a warrant of arrest is, whether the person is holding a high position in government or has an ordinary status in society.”

Yet when two eyewitnesses risked their lives to reveal that the Davao Death Squad did exist and that it was then Mayor Duterte who ordered the killing of hundreds of people in Davao City, including that of radio broadcaster Jun Pala, the Department of Justice wouldn’t even lift a finger to investigate their allegations.

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Former police officer Arthur Lascanas and self-confessed DDS hit man Edgar Matobato had nothing to gain and everything to lose when they surfaced to tell what they said was the truth.

The Department of Justice would rather listen to criminal convicts who stood everything to gain and nothing to lose to tell lies to pin down De Lima. The conspiracy became evident in the face of leaked reports that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II gave instructions to Bureau of Corrections officials to provide special privileges to the drug lords “in return for the testimony they gave during the congressional inquiry on the proliferation of drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison.”

The DOJ lawyers would prosecute a sitting senator and, on the same breath, dismiss illegal- drug cases against four known drug lords, including Wu Tuan Yuan alias Peter Co, because they will be utilized as prosecution witnesses against De Lima. The words of notorious drug lords against an elected senator and a former justice secretary, and they wouldn’t hesitate to take the convicts’ words.

Malacanang insists the arrest of De Lima on drug charges was not political persecution. But the actions of Aguirre in a rally by Duterte supporters at the Luneta, in what Duterte allies called alternative EDSA celebration, exposed his true intention.

“Who do you want to jail next?” Aguirre posed this question to the crowd gathered at the Quirino Grandstand at the Luneta on Saturday (Feb. 25) night. The throng shouted, “Trillanes!” They were referring to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Duterte’s other fiercest critic. The smiling justice secretary said: “Okay, help me out then.”

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With Aguirre at the helm of DOJ, it wouldn’t be difficult to call his agency the Department of Injustice and one of the bureaus could be called the Bureau of Political Persecution.

Let us not forget that the first act of former President Marcos when he declared martial law was to jail his fiercest critics in Congress and in media, particularly the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. At least he declared martial law before silencing them. Duterte’s men couldn’t wait to declare martial law and instead conspired with criminal convicts to stifle the opposition.

So what will they accuse Trillanes of? It has to be a non-bailable offense. Plunder could be out of the question because the senator wouldn’t even touch his pork barrel allocations.

The arrest of De Lima could boomerang on Duterte as it has many Liberal Party members thinking, “Should we just sit idly as our fellow Liberal is being persecuted by this administration?”

The first sign of a united LP, which should have been the foremost opposition party if not for the political opportunism of many of its elected congressmen, was when LP leaders joined Vice President Robredo in lambasting the Duterte administration in her UP speech. They included Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who also spoke at the same forum.

Pangilinan said he found it ironic that on the eve of the 31st anniversary of People Power Revolution, “a critic is being detained.” He said, “In the middle of all this, we need to sit down, talk, engage, discern, and hopefully after discerning, we will act.”

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Let us not forget that the Liberal Part has a big majority of elected congressmen and senators. If they decide to bolt from the Duterte coalition, the Liberals can do a lot of things that could hurt Duterte, like impeachment. But that’s only possible if Duterte does not beat them to the draw with a martial-law declaration, as he has always threatened to do.