Leila de Lima is a former election lawyer, former justice secretary, incumbent senator and outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte who is currently detained on drug charges which she and a number of rights groups believe to be fabricated and politically motivated.
De Lima and Duterte first clashed in 2009 when she was leading an independent probe on the summary executions allegedly perpetrated by a vigilante group known as the Davao Death Squad. He was Davao City’s mayor, denying the existence of the DDS, and she was chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.
The local killing squad is now the subject of an International Criminal Court probe along with the Duterte administration’s bloody anti-illegal drug campaign.
Since her arrest and detention in February 2017, De Lima has been barred from participating in Senate hearings and sessions. Shortly before her arrest, she was also ousted by President Duterte’s allies in the Senate as chairperson of the powerful justice panel which she was leading in an investigation of the chief executive’s flagship campaign against illegal drugs.
Ahead of the 2022 elections, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Philippines called on presidential candidates to commit to free the senator if elected. Only Vice President Leni Robredo, a close ally of De Lima’s, and labor leader Leody de Guzman have indicated that they would seek her release if they win the presidency, with the latter using more absolute terms. De Lima, a Liberal Party stalwart and avid supporter of the vice president, is included in both Robredo and De Guzman’s Senate slates.
As a first-time senator, De Lima has authored at least ten laws. She also principally sponsored two landmark laws, namely the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) Act and the Magna Carta of the Poor. She has also filed critical bills such as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, a version of which was passed in the lower house in 2022 but remains pending in the Senate.
De Lima has long opposed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, reinstating the death penalty and charter change, calling the latter a “last resort of Philippine Presidents whose hold on power is about to end.”
She supports the SOGIE Equality Bill, renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise, criminalizing red-tagging, the anti-dynasty bill, the decriminalization of abortion for health reasons, same-sex civil unions, and legalizing divorce “based on legal grounds and not for very light reasons.”
“Ikinulong man ako at binusalan, patuloy pa rin ang aking pag-alay sa sariling buhay at kalayaan para sa ating bayan. Kung sa sakripisyo at pagsubok, palagay ko po ay akin nang napatunayan ang aking kakayahan na iangat ang kapakanan ng bayan.”
LEILA DE LIMA – PROFILE
Full Name: Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa Magistrado de Lima
Birthday: August 27, 1959 (Age 64)
Birthplace: Iriga, Camarines Sur
Residence: Detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center since 2017
Parents: Vicente de Lima (1929-2012), father, former Commission on Elections commissioner; Norma E. Magistrado (1933-present), mother
Siblings: Vicente de Lima Jr.; Vicente de Lima II; Caroline de Lima
Marital Status: Annulled; Plaridel Bohol, lawyer
Children: Israel de Lima; Vincent Joshua de Lima
- Bachelor of Laws, San Beda College, 1985
- Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science, De La Salle University, 1980
- Senator, Senate of the Philippines, 2016-present
- Secretary, Department of Justice, 2010-2016
- Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights, 2008-2010
- Clerk/ Secretary, House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, 1994-1995
- Deputy Clerk/Deputy Secretary, House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, 1993-1994
- Attorney III, Office of Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani Cruz, 1988-1989
As a first-time senator, De Lima has authored at least ten laws. She also principally sponsored two landmark laws, namely the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) Act and the Magna Carta of the Poor.
Since her arrest and detention in February 2017, she has been unable to participate in Senate hearings and sessions. When the Senate shifted to holding hybrid sessions due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, she again petitioned the courts to allow her to participate via videoconference but her request was denied in June 2020.
While detained, De Lima has received a slew of international awards and recognitions, including Liberation International’s highest Prize for Freedom which was awarded to only one Filipino before her: President Corazon Aquino. Liberation International, a global federation of liberal parties, also nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was named one of the 50 World Greatest Leaders in 2018 by Fortune magazine, among the world’s 100 Most Influential People along with president Duterte by Time Magazine in 2017, and included in Foreign Policy Magazine’s 2017 list of 100 Global Thinkers.
Though De Lima is viewed by many as a political prisoner, the Duterte administration maintains that the drug cases filed against her – essentially accusing her of sanctioning and profiting from the drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary and using the money to fund her senatorial bid – are in the hands of independent courts.
De Lima was acquitted in one of three conspiracy to commit drug trading cases by Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Judge Liezel Aquiatan on Feb. 17, 2021, who was acting on the demurrer to evidence or request to dismiss the cases for lack of evidence filed by the senator. The other two cases are still ongoing. Some five judges have inhibited themselves from the cases and two drug convict witnesses of the prosecution, Jayvee Sebastian and Vicente Sy, died amid the pandemic.
De Lima maintains that the cases are fabricated and points to her long history of seeking to hold Duterte accountable as motivation for his alleged persecution of her.
As early as 2009, she had been trying to prove the existence of the Davao Death Squad as Commission on Human Rights chairperson. She first clashed with Duterte, who was then Davao City mayor, in a public inquiry on the summary executions where Duterte denied the existence of the local killing squad but acknowledged that “unexplained [and] unresolved” killings were taking place.
At that point, the CHR had recorded some 742 unsolved killings, 206 of which were attributed by the commission to the DDS. Duterte denied involvement with the killings but took responsibility for their happening under his watch as mayor.
Despite the CHR’s 2012 recommendation that the ombudsman probe Duterte’s possible liability for the killings, no charges were filed and the ombudsman’s probe was “closed and terminated.”
De Lima continued to pursue the investigation as justice secretary following her appointment in 2010. After she was elected senator and Duterte elected president in 2016, De Lima opened a probe as head of the powerful Senate justice committee on the extrajudicial killings linked to the new administration’s flagship anti-drug campaign.
After just three hearings and De Lima’s September 2016 presentation of witness Edgar Motabato, a self-professed former member of the DDS who linked Duterte to the local killing squad, she was ousted as justice panel chairperson by Duterte’s allies in the Senate. Senator Manny Pacquiao moved to declare De Lima’s seat vacant and Senator Richard Gordon took her place.
The House justice panel opened its own probe on De Lima where convict witnesses alleged that they paid De Lima millions when she was justice secretary in order to continue their drug trade. The witnesses also claimed that her driver Ronnie Dayan was her bagman and lover. Both De Lima and Dayan have since confirmed that they had a relationship but both deny participation in the drug trade and his alleged role as her bagman. The house panel in its final committee report on the matter linked De Lima to the drug trade inside the national penitentiary but did not recommend any charges against her.
A warrant for her arrest was issued by a Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court on Feb. 23, 2017, for violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. She was arrested and detained four days later.
Gordon is now running as part of the same Senate slate as De Lima under the tandem of Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Francis Pangilinan. De Lima in a statement said she had no objection to running under the same slate as Gordon who she believes experienced a supposed change of heart after nearly five years of supporting the Duterte administration.
The International Criminal Court in September 2021 opened a probe on both the Davao Death Squad killings and the Duterte administration’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs for crimes against humanity. Three months later, the ICC agreed to halt its probe upon a deferral request filed by the Philippines which cited the capacity of local institutions to investigate the killings.
Senator Leila M. De Lima is one of the staunchest voices in the Philippine human rights and justice fronts.
Having the privilege of working with the country’s top politicians and legal luminaries, Senator De Lima is bringing her 29 years of experience, legal expertise and integrity in the difficult challenge of crafting laws in her first term in the 17th Congress.
Appointed as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (2008 – 2010), De Lima has energized the country’s premier human rights body in addressing cases of human rights violations as she led a team of young lawyers and human rights activists in investigating extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and all forms of human rights violations throughout the country.
As Secretary of the Department of Justice (2010 – 2015), De Lima carried out the President’s directives in resolving renowned cases, including the prosecution of several prominent figures linked in the misuse of development funds, the murder of media practitioners in Mindanao, and the dangerous raids of the prison cells for maximum security inmates, subsequently exposing and ending their luxurious lifestyle.
It was also under her watch as head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking that the Philippines was removed from the US Human Trafficking Watchlist, paving the way for its long-hoped-for upgrade to Tier 1 status.
De Lima has gained honors from the public and private sectors, bestowing her numerous awards and citations, including the prestigious MetroBank Foundation Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance in 2010 and the Excellent Public Servant Award, Defender of People’s Rights, and “Agent of Change” Award in 2010, among many others.
Prior to her appointment to government posts, she has spent much of her career in private practice. She also worked as a law clerk and secretary for the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (1993 – 1995), legal staff for Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani A. Cruz (1986 – 1989), partner for various prestigious law firms (1989 – 2008), and law professor in Election Law, Business Organizations, Persons and Family Relations, Transportation Law, Statutory Construction (1986 – 1994; 2006 – 2007).
Like her father, Senator De Lima also made strides as one of the most prominent election lawyers in the country, handling high-profile cases of electoral fraud for national and local candidates.
Elected as 12th senator in 2016, De Lima now sets her eyes on shepherding meaningful policy and structural reforms into laws intended to improve the country’s criminal justice system, promote human rights, strengthen the rule of law, fighting graft and corruption, and introducing changes in the Constitution and election laws.
Born in Iriga City, Camarines Sur on the 27th of August 1959, De Lima was educated in Catholic institutions where she always graduated top of her class. In 1985, she placed 8th in the Bar Examination, bringing pride to her alma mater, San Beda College, where she earned her law degree and was later on conferred with the Most Outstanding Alumna awards in 2010 and 2011.
The eldest daughter of the late Election Commissioner Vicente B. De Lima and Norma E. Magistrado has two sons, Israel and Vincent Joshua, and two loving grandchildren, Brandon and Hannah.