“If I were de Lima, ladies and gentlemen, I will hang myself,” President Rodrigo Duterte said, referring to his fiercest opposition in the legislature, Senator Leila de Lima.
Duterte did not mince words on Monday, August 29, when he talked about the senator, who has been vocal about her concern over the rising number of killings of drug suspects since the government started its campaign against drugs.
“Your life is, not just your life, the innermost of your core as female (is) being serialized every day. Dapat mag-resign ka. You should resign,” Duterte said in his speech in front of wounded police officers at a hospital in Tacloban City.
Duterte has previously called de Lima an “immoral woman” for having an affair with her married driver, who is also alleged to be her bagman in collecting drug money at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). He later added that it was the senator’s “sexual escapades” that caused her to get involved with drugs.
“Wala ka nang mukhang maipapakita sa kapwa mo babae,” Duterte said.
He also revealed de Lima to have links to the illegal drug trade and even showed a “drug matrix” tagging the senator and several other politicians, like the former Pangasinan governor and now Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr. But de Lima repeatedly denied these accusations.
De Lima reacts
Why would I take my persecutor’s advice?
This was de Lima’s initial reaction after hearing Duterte’s remarks urging her to resign and hang herself.
De Lima remains firm in her stance as the President’s critic.
“Is there any reason why I should be taking advice from the person who is persecuting and maligning me? I don’t think so,” she told Rappler.
“It is only natural to self-preservation that one does not rely on the suggestions of those who want to see you extinguished and who wish your destruction,” she added.
In a chance interview, the senator admitted to having thought about resigning to keep her peace of mind.
“Now the call for resignation, alam ‘nyo, sinabi ko na ‘yan sa inyo, na nag-cross na rin sa mind ko ‘yan para tumahimik na lang sila, para ‘wag na nila ako, tigilan na lang nila ako, tumahimik na lang ang buhay ko, mag-resign na lang ako,” de Lima said.
But she decided to continue her fight after some reflection.
“Besides, resignation at this point will be an admission of guilt and a sign of weakness. And I’m neither weak nor guilty,” she added.
In her interview with Reuters on Monday, August 29, de Lima said that she does not fear for her life, knowing that everyone would know who to blame if anything happened to her. She also revealed that she got warnings from people close to the President to stop questioning the killings of drug suspects.
“Some of my closest friends, some of my family are pleading with me ‘you better stop already, stop it, stop it, keep quiet or just quit so they leave you alone.’ But I cannot do that,” de Lima said.
Police figures showed that since Duterte declared war on drugs, there have been over 1,900 people killed. Police said this averages 36 people killed daily, mainly due to gang feuds or drug pushers resisting arrest.
Reacting to Duterte’s comment about her losing face as a woman, hence she better hang herself, de Lima said, “What they are doing to me is even worse than death. The honor, especially my womanhood, my reputation.”
De Lima also talked about how there have been hundreds killed by unidentified gunmen.
“From all indications, based on the account of those who witnessed it, those were actually police. Are these death squads? Who are they, and under whose direction are they doing that?” she said.
The senator added that Duterte’s war on drugs has targeted the poor despite his earlier promises to chase after drug syndicates and kingpins.
“The ones being targeted are the powerless, the voiceless, the defenseless, because they are so poor. Where is the justice there, there’s so much injustice,” she added.
De Lima said that the Senate committee hearing on the killings will resume on Thursday and hoped that the hearings will hasten the passage of a law that would classify extrajudicial killing a special crime with harsh penalties. She also revealed her plans to make the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) more independent with more capacity to investigate human rights violations.
The climate of fear developed due to the spate of killings in the country scared people of speaking the truth, adding that only Duterte can put an end to this kind of ‘mad’ environment.
“It’s only the president who can stop all of this. I call this madness really,” de Lima said.