De Lima ordeal on social media losing toxicity, gaining ‘reason’
MANILA, Philippines—Leila de Lima, who was elected as senator in 2016, was ridiculed and maligned, with no less than Rodrigo Duterte saying she was “immoral” and linking her to the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
The tirades against her were so relentless that even on Facebook, De Lima, who was chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ), had to endure countless indignities.
She said she believed, however, that she would be vindicated. “I will shoulder on,” she said.
De Lima was arrested on Feb. 23, 2017 in the early days of the Duterte presidency. The arrest came only days after the DOJ filed drug-related charges against her. She was behind bars for six years, eight months and 21 days until Nov. 13 when she was granted bail by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“Free at last,” she said as soon as she walked out of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City. She posted P300,000 bail in the last drug case against her.
De Lima cried, then smiled. “This is a moment of triumph and thanksgiving,” she said, with her release celebrated in Manila all the way to Iriga City in Camarines Sur, where her 91-year-old mother with dementia is staying.
Even online, where she was ridiculed and maligned relentlessly, the outpour of sympathy was evident that the waves of negative reactions, even hate comments, eased.
For Dr. Maria Ela Atienza, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, this was because “reasonable people who may not like De Lima personally would have noticed how she was treated unfairly.”
She told INQUIRER.net via Facebook Messenger that she was failed not only by the justice system but also by her colleagues in Congress—all because she spoke loudly against the bloodthirsty campaign against drugs enforced by Duterte, president from 2016 to 2022.
In 2016 and almost throughout the Duterte regime, social media, especially Facebook, seemed like a living hell for De Lima, who was charged by the government with violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
She was the one who investigated allegations regarding the existence of a Davao Death Squad in 2009 and the killings in the government’s war on drugs in 2016, the year Duterte took office as president.
However, her quest for light led to her “persecution,” which would eventually reverberate online, where she was condemned and humiliated constantly, something she had to endure even on her saddest days.
Remember when she was ordered arrested by the Muntinlupa RTC? INQUIRER.net’s post on Facebook received 14,000 reactions, mostly “like” (10,000) and “love” (1,600), indicating that most netizens were not sympathizing with De Lima.
Even when Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for De Lima’s release after the hostage-taking inside the PNP Custodial Center last year, negative reactions—8,300 “haha”—dominated the 15,000 total reactions.
When she was recognized as the second Filipino to receive the Prize for Freedom, the “highest human rights honor,” INQUIRER.net’s post on Facebook received a lot of “haha” too—1,600 out of the total 8,500 reactions.
Interestingly, however, as she was released on bail after a series of recantations by key government witnesses, negative reactions seemed to have dissipated, as if everyone was happy she finally walked free.
Based on INQUIRER.net’s posts on Facebook on the day De Lima was released, negative reactions only ranged from 29 to 345, with “like” and “love” reactions commanding the trend.
As explained by Atienza, the dissipation of online hatred toward De Lima was because of the combination of a lot of things, like the change in the presidency and the seeming fall of Duterte, who has been exchanging tirades with the House of Representatives in the past weeks.
“The atmosphere of fear created by the Duterte administration may have also waned with the change in administration,” she said, referring to the end of the Duterte regime and the start of Marcos Jr.’s in June 2022.
She said, too, that “aside from the changes in the national mood, status of her cases being dismissed except [for] one and witnesses retracting,” could be behind the change of perception on De Lima.
RELATED STORY: 2 more witnesses recant testimonies vs De Lima
With only one case left, one of her lawyers told Teleradyo that De Lima is hoping that the latest recantation of seven convicted witnesses can lead to her unconditional freedom. The witnesses are now waiting whether they will be asked to testify.
End in sight?
Atienza pointed out that the possible deterioration of the “online army” used against De Lima through the years could be an explanation as well, saying that things have already changed.
But whatever the reason is, she stressed that “this is an opportunity for reasonable Filipinos to actually appreciate the injustice and poor state of human rights in the country with Duterte no longer in power.”
“Of course, human rights violations continue but the new administration has other priorities that can be opportunities to push for reforms in the justice system and the state of human rights in the country,” she said.
As De Lima said in an interview with INQside Look, “it’s reckoning time.” “We all know about you being behind those killings (war on drugs). We all know about you being behind my persecution,” she said, addressing herself to Duterte.
Duterte is now being investigated in the ICC for the bloodthirsty war on drugs that claimed the lives of thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers, mostly in poor communities, without any cases filed or tried in court.
The deaths were attributed to either questionable police operations or vigilante-style killings.
RELATED STORY: De Lima: Detention made me stronger, why stop now?