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Philippines - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General 3:15 pm, 24th January 2019

My Lords, I want to talk about a very brave and remarkable lady, Senator Leila de Lima, a 59 year-old Filipina law professor. She was chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights between 2008 and 2010, and was then appointed Secretary of Justice by the Liberal President, Benigno Aquino. In 2012, in that capacity, she carried out an inquiry into extrajudicial killings in Davao City, where Roderigo Duterte was at that time mayor. She also saw to it that the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by certain drug lords in prison was abruptly terminated.

De Lima was elected a senator in 2016 and campaigned against the draconian anti-drug policies of Duterte, now the incoming President. She said:

“We cannot wage the war against drugs with blood”.

Duterte responded that he would “destroy her in public”. In February 2017, Senator de Lima was arrested on the word of the drug lords she had upset and was held in prison without bail. The drug lords, unsurprisingly, were themselves released from prison. Last August, after 18 months, she was finally charged with one count of drug trafficking. Typically, she refused to plead, telling the judge that the charge was,

“pure invention, a fabrication … a sham”.

However, prison did not silence her. In a flow of statements, published last year in her book Dispatches from Crame 1, she condemned Duterte’s war on drugs and its increasing death toll. She attacked Duterte’s kow-towing to Chinese interests over the militarised artificial islands that China has created in the South China Sea and the fishing grounds and oil reserves of the Spratly Islands. Philippine sovereignty was upheld against China by the UN Arbitral Tribunal in 2016. Duterte was, Senator de Lima declared, China’s lackey. I quote from her book:

“Why be shy now, Mr. President? Show your billions. Or are they already safe in China for safekeeping, while you sell our islands and the patrimony of this country to the Chinese?”

Those were brave words for a woman in custody.

Following Duterte’s declaration of martial law on the island of Mindanao in 2017, she exploded:

“He brags about all the people he killed and had killed. He goes on television and tells cops to commit more killings. He curses at and disrespects people and institutions just because they ask him to respect the law and deliver justice ... he jokes about allowing soldiers to get away with raping women. The more, the better … Who says”,

our brave men and women of the armed forces,

“want a pass for committing sexual assaults and other animal-like behaviour?”

Amnesty International described Senator de Lima as a “prisoner of conscience” and gave her the title of Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender. The European Parliament called for her release. In July last, Liberal International awarded her the Prize for Freedom.

Duterte declares that he wants her to “rot in jail”. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is to be congratulated on securing this debate, said, Duterte is personally under investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. But he warned the ICC prosecutor that he will have her arrested if she sets foot in the Philippines. He has attempted on his own personal initiative, without the consent of Parliament, to pull the Philippines out of the ICC jurisdiction. The cases continues.

Senator de Lima wrote earlier this week:

“Because of Duterte’s madness, suspected drug offenders who don’t get to have a day in the court—including women and children—and the rights activists and church leaders who defend them, are becoming more and more vulnerable to intimidations, attacks, and killings”.

Yesterday, she was before the court again on yet another pre-trial hearing and gave a feisty press conference on the steps of the court, surrounded by her prison guards. I am sure that she can be assured of the full support of this House.