De Lima takes home 5 of her dozen Crame cats
MANILA, Philippines — Two days after being released on bail, former Sen. Leila de Lima was still adjusting to her restored life of freedom, finding it hard to sleep at night.
But her transition from being a Camp Crame detainee to a citizen poised for a return to high-profile public engagements is somehow being eased — or made more poignant — by what she brought home after more than six years of incarceration.
Out of the dozen cats that kept her company and became her “constant source of joy and good vibes” at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center, she managed to take five “favorites” with her when she was released on Monday.
“I am so saddened that I could not bring them all. I only have to choose my favorites and I have to bring them home,” she said in an interview on ANC on Wednesday. “If only I could bring them all, I would. But it’s not possible for me.”
Saving her ‘sanity’
She recalled feeding and talking to her feline “companions,” and how “they became so attached to me.”
The cats — along with daily prayers, Bible readings, and routine physical chores — “kept my sanity intact,” De Lima said at the press conference she held on Monday night shortly after being granted bail by a Muntinlupa City court hearing the third and last of the drug trafficking cases filed against her during the Duterte administration.
“I was so sad; I was almost crying when I left Camp Crame today because I left the cats there,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time she spoke of her beloved pets. The Crame cats were a recurring subject in the handwritten “dispatches” she had issued to the media from her detention cell.
In her 1,032nd dispatch on Feb. 14, 2021, De Lima said she was just happy to share the “delightful” sight of her adopted stray cats “in an almost perfect horizontal line formation.” This was the day she returned to the cell after a 24-hour furlough.
On Nov. 21, 2020, De Lima wrote about losing Bull, whom she described as “tough-looking (yet) quiet, reserved… and very disciplined.” She also reported the passing of Arya, Bran, Blackie, Oldie and Kittie.
There was also special mention of Doll, Ghost, and Duchess as her favorites.
Dog lover at first
De Lima said she earlier considered herself more drawn to dogs because of their “naturally sweet and loyal qualities” and their “sensitivity in easily sensing their human’s moods.”
“Now, from being a bonafide dog lover, I have also learned to be fond of cats, equally sweet and sensitive,” De Lima wrote on July 14, 2019.
“In times when I am alone and sad because of my current situation, they are the ones that give me joy and make my heart lighter. They are real blessings!” she said.
As a senator, in November 2020, De Lima filed a bill strengthening protective measures of the animal welfare law.
Remulla sees acquittal
Also on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said De Lima would likely be acquitted in her remaining drug case, like what happened in the first two.
“Chances are she will be acquitted because that is a very strong statement when you say that the prosecution was unable to fulfill that burden of proof that is necessary for them to keep her in detention,” Remulla said in a CNN Philippines interview, citing the court ruling that granted her bail.
“Once they are able to overtake this presumption of nonbailability and bail is granted, then the momentum is very much in favor of the defense,” he noted. “Bail is not easily granted until the judge is convinced. We trust the judge on this matter. That’s our system and we respect that.”
Remulla reiterated that he had never interfered in how prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) handled the cases filed against De Lima.
“It is not for us to tell them what to do because it is something that they started a long time ago (during the Duterte presidency) and they are the ones who built up the case that they filed,” he added.
The approved bail petition, he said, showed “the independence of the judiciary” and that “democracy is alive and well in our country.”
Meanwhile, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II — in whose tenure the De Lima cases were filed — said he respected the ruling but wondered why the ex-senator was granted bail only now and after her several attempts to seek provisional liberty.
“Why was it granted only after more than six years? How come the judge saw only now that the evidence was weak? Secretary De Lima has been attempting to post bail for years; how come she was not able to do it in the previous years?” Aguirre said in a radio interview.
“Probably it’s true what Senator [Ronald] Bato [dela Rosa] said that here in our country, once the administration changes, strong cases weaken,” he added.
Aguirre stressed that when he filed the charges against De Lima in February 2017, a case buildup was duly undertaken “because it’s embarrassing if they would only get dismissed.”
The former DOJ secretary again denied that he forced witnesses to testify against De Lima.
“There is no truth to that,” he said when asked to comment on former Senate President Franklin Drilon’s remarks that Aguirre was among the people who may be charged with perjury in view of the recantations of key prosecution witnesses.
Carpio sees ‘persecution’
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio welcomed De Lima’s release, saying her motion should have been granted a long time ago.
“It’s good that finally bail has been granted because under the Constitution when you are charged with a crime and the evidence of guilt is not strong, you have a right to bail. It’s your right to bail,” Carpio told reporters.
“Her bail plea should have been approved a long time ago because the case is really nothing; it’s baseless,” he added. “This is persecution, not prosecution.”