Government News Analysis

Desperate De Lima’s last-ditch appeal

Philippine Senator Leila De Lima

The UK’s floundering national newspaper, the Guardian, with pre-tax losses of US$212 million, is again championing the plight of floundering Philippine senator, Leila De Lima. Birds of a flounder, it would seem, stick together. And with typical subjective reporting, this soon-to-disappear rag paints a picture of a lone champion of justice who is victimised for being a woman. The article is full of inaccuracies, full of bias and illustrates why this journal is ignored on the news stands. Average daily sales of the Guardian (based on August figures) are around 6,050 copies. To put that into context, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has a daily circulation of around 260,000.

This latest offering describes De Lima as “a leading member of the Philippines’ senate,” which, of course she is not. She is a neophyte senator; and is less than five months into her first term in the chamber. But, hey-ho, when did the Guardian ever allow itself to be constricted by facts when it comes to making its point. The paper knows that De Lima’s accusations carry more weight if they are shown to come from a seasoned member of Congress rather than from a rookie – particularly one who has repeatedly shown to have little understanding of how the Senate works.

Let’s move on. De Lima specifically chose the Guardian to unleash her latest strategy to bring down Duterte and his government because of its strong anti-Duterte stance. She knew it would leap at the chance of having yet another go at the president, and handed the Guardian the bullets which it fired gladly – Philippines senator calls for Duterte to face crimes against humanity inquiry.

The script was predictable – The VolatilianTM alluded to precisely this move a couple of days ago: Stoning a president in a double hit. There is no new material as far as the allegations against Duterte are concerned in the Guardian article; no revelations. All there is, again see our earlier article, is an attempt by De Lima to hitch her sinking star to recent comments made by the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda: that her office will be “closely following developments in the Philippines in the weeks to come … with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination into the situation in the Philippines needs to be opened”.

As far as De Lima – and by extension the Guardian – is concerned, the ICC shouldn’t wait. It should go after Duterte immediately. As she told the paper: the ICC “should start to think about investigating already or doing an inquiry into the killings as crimes against humanity”. She went on to urge the leaders of Western governments to invoke sanctions against the Philippines – “The EU and the UN should monitor developments and start rethinking their aid packages” – presumably, as part of this she would also like to see a blocking of trade to and from the archipelago.

Leaving aside the time it takes for any government to approve such sanctions, and all the logistical headaches involved – this is also not one of De Lima’s areas of expertise – what that suggestion clearly shows is that this neophyte senator is prepared to further damage her country’s already challenged economy for her own ends.

According to the Guardian she said that “foreign intervention was the only hope of putting an end to ‘state-inspired’ extrajudicial murders that have terrorised parts of the population since president Rodrigo Duterte came to power four months ago”. “State-inspired”? Where’s the proof/verification – of course none of that’s important; this is a Guardian article after all. No need for any of that.

What the article doesn’t say is that De Lima has been trying to nail Duterte since 2009 when he was still the Mayor of Davao City and has never come close to building a case against him. What it also omits to properly explain is the strength of the case building against De Lima herself with respect to her alleged involvement and benefitting from the illegal-drugs industry at the country’s largest penitentiary, New Bilibid Prison, when she was the Secretary of Justice. These allegations also claim that her senatorial campaign was funded by drug money. If proven, this makes her a narco politician and any world body – the EU, the UN and particularly the ICC – seen as supporting one of them would be irreparably tarnished.

It also neglected to mention that the neophyte senator is on a watch list issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ): she is the subject of an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order (ILBO) which means that any travel plans which De Lima might have must first be vetted by the DOJ. The ILBO was enforced because, given the gravity of the alleged offences, “there is a strong possibility (that she and others on the list) may attempt to place themselves beyond the reach of (the DOJ) by leaving the country”.

Painting herself as a victim, she goes on to attack Duterte as a “misogynist” and a sexist. “I am being targeted because I’m a woman, because we have a misogynistic president. He regards women as inferior … that we are second-class citizens,” De Lima tells the Guardian. And for the Guardian that’s enough; no need to look any further.

But if that was the case, how come Duterte’s government is better represented by women than the previous one under former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Duterte’s Tourism Secretary is a woman, so is his Education Secretary, his Social Welfare and Development Secretary, his Education Secretary, his Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, his CEO at the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. And that’s just senior members of his Cabinet.

But ask Irene Santiago, CEO of the Mindanao Commission on Women. Back in May she had this to say: “In Davao it’s almost all women. (Duterte’s) chief of staff is a woman, more than half the city councilors are women. So he’s very comfortable having women in positions of leadership”.

The Guardian article, then, amounts to little more than the rantings of a desperate would-be politician who is floundering in a sea of mounting controversy. With her survival on the line she has become ever more isolated; even members of her own Liberal Party have mostly distanced themselves from her. They seem to know that she is damaged goods and could bring the entire party edifice down around their ears. They favour the more-patient long game to scupper Duterte and drive him from power.

That isolation at home, though, is why De Lima is pinning virtually all her hopes on a swift international intervention. Time is not on her side for the long game; and she knows it.

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