Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged the Filipino people not to remain passive and instead fight back when Mr. Duterte and his repressive regime weaponize the law in their attempt to take away our country’s hard-fought freedoms.
In a keynote speech during the first-ever international forum on lawfare last Feb. 21, De Lima underscored the destructive power of lawfare – or the spurious use of the law by repressive governments to persecute and silence perceived adversaries – that is being used for personal and political gains.
“In truth, weaponizing the law victimizes human beings in many ways in different levels. It destroys individual lives. It destroys families. It destroys nations by destroying the trust that holds together the social contract between the government and its people,” she said.
“For that is the very core of the vileness of weaponizing the law: it turns the people’s shield from oppression into the very tool of oppression they need protecting from – all for political gain,” she added.
De Lima, whose speech was read by her youngest brother, Vicente de Lima II, keynoted the first of its kind “International Forum on Lawfare: Weaponizing the Law vs Democratic Dissent” at the Yuchengco Auditorium, De La Salle University, Manila.
The forum was organized by De La Salle University, Alternative Law Groups, Human Rights and People Empowerment Center, and the Committee for the Freedom of Leila de Lima, with the support of news website Rappler as media partner.
Since lawfare is not only unique to the Philippines but also a global phenomenon, De Lima cited instances of lawfare’s misuse in other nations, including the situation of Chinese Professor Xu Zhangrun who publicly criticized President Xi Jinping over China’s coronavirus crisis.
Prof. Xu, who after publishing a scathing critique of China’s response to the coronavirus, was subjected to forced house arrest and has been barred to access the internet and social media, all without any kind of explanation or due process of law.
“If the scourge of lawfare continues – when it silences dissent, chills legitimate criticism and limits intelligent discourse – anyone can be the next Prof. Xu. Or the next Maria Ressa. Or the next Leila de Lima – detained for three years and, worse, maliciously and falsely labeled a ‘drug queen’,” the lady Senator from Bicol said.
“The destructive effects of lawfare, as a tool of oppression, spares no one. The Wuhan experience is just one stark example,” she added.
De Lima, who will mark her third year of unjust detention this coming Feb. 24, pointed out that instead of turning a blind eye against lawfare, the Filipino people must unite to fight back and keep the law serving the people and not only oppressive leaders.
“Let this serve as one decisive step as we fight to reclaim the power of Law as an instrument of Justice for the protection of people – not against people,” De Lima, a lifelong human rights defender, said.
“Let us make no mistake: this is a fight to preserve human life and dignity. Nothing more and nothing less,” she added.
Apart from De Lima, other prominent targets of lawfare including former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV shared their insights on lawfare to more than 1,200 attendees and guests.
The conference also hosted six breakout sessions, highlighting the effects of lawfare to other social environments: (1) Lawyering & Lawfare; (2) Political Opposition & Lawfare; (3) Media & Lawfare; (4) Civil and Political Rights & Lawfare; (5) Religion & Lawfare and (6) Economic, Social and Cultural Rights & Lawfare, with sub-sessions on (a) Women, Youth, and LGBT and (b) Labor, Urban Poor and Agriculture. (senate.gov.ph)