Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 September 2017


Last Sunday, Aug. 27, my husband and I trooped to Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters, to visit Sen. Leila de Lima whose 58th birthday it was. It was not easy to visit the detained senator. You had to be in the list of expected visitors, which had to be submitted to authorities five days in advance. You had to present a valid ID, and you could not bring in your cell phone and any electronic device.

Your body and your belongings would be searched twice—once at the entrance of the facility and again at the entrance to where she is being held. The police personnel who you met in the process were all extremely polite, and constantly said “Pasensya na po,” or “Sorry, but this is required.” By whom, they didn’t say.

After a circuitous 4- or 5-minute walk, you came to an open area, which was covered with tents, except for the center, to enable the CCTV to “see” what was happening. Seats were arranged, because a Mass was to be celebrated for the senator and her guests, with lunch afterwards.

Reader, when the senator approached me, I was stunned. Walking toward me was a radiant, svelte, and—dare I say—sexy creature who had no similarity at all to the pudgy, shawl-draped and harassed lady of 187 days ago (by her count), when she was a free woman.

I confess, Reader, that my first reaction was, not pity, but envy—and I told her so. No one should be looking so good after being incarcerated that long. She laughed delightedly, and said she didn’t want to give her jailers any comfort. The thought immediately struck me: She personified the addressee in the faux-Latin phrase “Illegitimi non carborundum” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down).

She gave me a 6-step tour of her quarters (three to come in and three to walk out): a small anteroom with a microwave oven, plus an equally small room with a bed, a desk, book-filled shelves (the usual present of visitors), and a small cooler-fan. She said she is allowed no phone, no TV, no radio, no music player. And from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day, she is absolutely alone. No “neighbors.” Her area is totally isolated.

Mass was concelebrated by five priests led by Archbishop Soc Villegas, who unhesitatingly accepted the invitation. Apparently, Mass is celebrated every Sunday (10 a.m.) and Wednesday (4 p.m.) either by “Paring” Bert Alejo, SJ, and/or Fr. Robert Reyes (a former Franciscan), and two others.

Father Soc’s great homily had us all examining ourselves. Three basic questions we all must answer: What do we want? What are we afraid of? Where are we going?

After the Mass, Father Bert read from his journal of a year before, concerning Edgar Matobato (remember him)? Father Bert was apparently the man who got Senator De Lima and Matobato together. He called her on her birthday about a “sensitive matter.” At that time, Matobato had already been given sanctuary for three months by Father Soc, and the Oblates. Matobato was prepared to go to jail, even to die, said Father Bert, but he wanted first to tell the truth. And he trusted Senator De Lima.

That was how their relationship began—although she remembered him from when, as justice secretary, she had approved his entry into the witness protection program. No conspiracy. He told her his story, she made him tell it to the Filipino people, and she got punished for it—in spades.

Senator De Lima reads a lot these days, and she admits to succumbing to tears in the silence of her long nights—when no one can see her or hear her. And she has become closer to her Lord.

This senator is in jail, I remind the Reader, because she is charged with drug trafficking—a nonbailable crime—based on testimonies made up out of whole cloth mainly by felons convicted of murder, robbery, kidnapping, trading in illegal drugs. Compare this with the treatment of the President’s son and son-in-law who seem to be “out of bounds.” Or with police officers Marvin Marcos and Jovie Espenido, who were rewarded, even as they had turned off the CCTV cameras that would have allowed us to determine whether their “kill” was justified. Where’s the justice?