Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has warned against the alarming trend of weaponizing the Rule of Law against perceived government critics in the country aimed to disarm dissent and strengthen the political machinery of the present administration.
In her commentary entitled “Lawfare: The silent pandemic afflicting the world” published in social news network Rappler last Nov. 20, De Lima said Filipinos are now living in the age of lawfare which weaponizes laws for political advantage.
“As a life-long believer and defender of the Rule of Law, it sickens me to see it so publicly perverted and made a mockery of – weaponized as a tool to eliminate political discourse and silence legitimate criticisms and dissent,” she said.
“Lawfare has been used for everything from political assassination to the orchestration of civilian deaths. The ‘red-tagging’ of human rights activists happening in regions of the Philippines is exactly that,” she added.
“Lawfare”, the former justice secretary explained, is a portmanteau of the words “law” and “warfare” to signify a form of war consisting of the use of the legal system against a perceived enemy, such as by damaging or delegitimizing them.
These days, she continued, laws are weaponized against elected officials like herself and other political leaders, citing, among others, her trumped-up drug charges and the sedition charges filed against her and other opposition figures, including Vice President Leni Robredo.
On her trumped-up drug case, De Lima recalled that “on February 24, 2017, I was arrested from the steps of the Philippine Senate and has since been under unjust detention for a crime that I, quite plainly, did not commit.”
“The only ‘offense’ I am guilty of is being ‘that female government official’ that Rodrigo R. Duterte vowed to ‘destroy in public’ for being among the ‘human rights stalwarts’ that made him their ‘whipping boy,’” she added.
When she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima investigated Mr. Duterte’s alleged existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) being suspected of the unexplained executions in Davao City where he was the mayor.
As a neophyte senator, she initiated a Senate investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings and summary executions in the government’s all-out drug war that resulted in the death of thousands of suspected drug offenders.
According to the lady Senator from Bicol, the weaponization of laws against critics is also happening in different parts of the world even as she recalled the briefing given by Inter-Parliamentary Union President Gabriela Cuevas Barrón held before the US Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission last Sept. 19.
In the briefing, Barrón said the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians dealt with a total of 564 cases of parliamentarians from 43 countries, which is practically twice the number since 2014, that were victimized by the use of lawfare, in 2018 alone.
“There, it became painfully clear that the use of lawfare to further authoritarian rule and to eliminate democratic discourse is now a pandemic,” De Lima said.
With the rise of authoritarian regimes like that of the Duterte administration, De Lima said it has become more important for people from across the world to stand united in defending the Rule of Law from being perverted.
“To defend it is to defend what makes us human beings living in a civilized world. To defend it is to defend our freedom to seek truth, to seek justice and to seek our own destiny,” she said.