De Lima declares herself 'free' three years into detention

February 24 ------ Opposition Senator Leila De Lima pronounced herself "free" not as a victim but as a "defender" of the rights of the people as she entered her third year in detention over drug-related charges. “Today, I declare myself free. For though I may be physically detained, my mind is freer than it has ever been; my dignity is intact; and my will to fight to protect the freedom and interests of the Filipino people is stronger than ever,” De Lima said in her keynote address at the “International Forum on Lawfare: Weaponizing the Law vs Democratic Dissent” last Friday. “Thus, I am not a victim. I am not merely a survivor. I am not just a fighter. I am a defender,” she added in her address, read by her youngest brother Vicente "Vicboy" de Lima II.

On February 24, 2017, De Lima surrendered to authorities after Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group served her a warrant for her arrest issued by a Muntinlupa court over drug-related charges. The charges stemmed from allegations that De Lima allowed the illegal drug trade to proliferate inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice secretary, allegedly in exchange for drug money for her 2016 senatorial bid. De Lima is being detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

In her message, De Lima said she continues to fight using truth, reason, compassion —the three things that she said her oppressors "lack in themselves and fear most in those they oppress.” Recognizing that weaponizing the law especially against political enemies as nothing new, the senator welcomed the forum as a gathering of those who are "brave enough to share their experiences as victims of lawfare." “Up to my very last breath and to the very last words I utter, I will make everything I do count as a counterattack against the weaponization of Law, and a defense of democracy, the Rule of Law and, most of all, the sovereignty and welfare of the Filipino people," she added.

De Lima was an election lawyer and served a chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, before she became Justice secretary and later a senator.