MANY metaphors can be used to refer to the situation Sen. Leila de Lima is in. One was used by Miquel de Cervantes in his novel “Don Quixote,” the one where the “ingenious gentleman” Don Quixote of La Mancha was depicted as “tilting at windmills.” The other, which I prefer, is swimming against the tide. I haven’t done that literally because I don’t know how to swim. But those who know can say how difficult that act is.
De Lima, after a few days of “high” chairing the Senate committee on justice and human rights hearing into the incidents of extrajudicial killings under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte last week, wherein controversial witness Edgar Matobato was presented, was ousted as committee chair Monday and her name thrown around during a House committee hearing specifically designed for her starting the following day.
The Left has a term for that, “adbenturismo” (adventurism). It is throwing the entire weight of your forces into a battle wherein the enemy has an overwhelming advantage. The admonition by tacticians is always to consider all aspects before launching an offensive. The great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said it well: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without danger of defeat.”
De Lima and Duterte go a long way. When she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2008 under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, de Lima dared speak against the vigilante-style killings that bedeviled the administration of Duterte when he was mayor of Davao City. She also tried initiating a probe into the killings when she was justice secretary from 2010 to 2016 but it didn’t move for lack of witnesses and evidence.
No wonder de Lima, who ran for senator under the administration Liberal Party (LP), was among the candidates “demonized” by the camp of Duterte, who obviously had developed a dislike for her. Duterte won the presidential race by a wide margin over his closest pursuer, LP standard bearer Mar Roxas. De Lima also won a Senate seat. Then like what happens in the unprincipled politics we have, almost every politician clambered unto the Duterte ship.
Not only that. Starting in July this year, the Duterte camp built an administration like no other. It launched a blistering war against the illegal drugs trade characterized by its harshness. With around 3,000 killed, possible human rights violations naturally became an issue. There’s also a certain harshness in Duterte’s leadership style, a harshness that also characterizes the actions of many of his fanatical supporters.
On the other hand, with the mass defections of its members to the Duterte camp, the LP where de Lima belongs has become a shell of its old self, and most of those who remained in the party have become mute. The opposition under Duterte has become known for its weakness.
It is obvious in this setup that the Duterte camp has the overwhelming advantage in people and resources over de Lima’s group and possesses a certain level of harshness. In this setup, it would have been good for dher to have chosen her battles well, like what her colleagues are doing. But apparently, that is not her nature.
Yet while de Lima looked foolhardy, what she did showed her mettle. Adventurists possess a heroic bent. In a way, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was an adventurist: he walked into the jaws of danger on Aug. 20, 1983 despite the advice not to do it by well-meaning people. He was martyred and it sparked an uprising.
We still do not know how the allegations hurled at de Lima will play out, or whether those accusations will stick or not. For now, de Lima remains senator with a little less than six years remaining in her term. Hopefully, she has learned her lessons from the bitter experience she is going through and use these in her eventual rebound.
This is not the end of the line for de Lima, far from it. Our politics go through some weird twists and turns. Consider the Marcoses, who were forced into exile in Hawaii in 1986. Consider Joseph Estrada who was convicted of plunder. Consider Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who for years was under “hospital arrest.” They have reacquired their political influence and swagger.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ twitter: @khanwens)