Leila de Lima
Leila de Lima
|Senator of the Philippines|
|Assumed office |
June 30, 2016
|Chair of the Philippine Senate |
Electoral Reforms and
People's Participation Committee
July 25, 2016 – July 24, 2018
|Preceded by||Aquilino Pimentel III|
|Succeeded by||Aquilino Pimentel III|
|Chair of the Philippine Senate |
Justice and Human Rights Committee
July 25, 2016 – September 19, 2016
|Preceded by||Aquilino Pimentel III|
|Succeeded by||Richard J. Gordon|
|Secretary of Justice|
June 30, 2010 – October 12, 2015
|President||Benigno Aquino III|
|Preceded by||Alberto Agra (acting)|
|Succeeded by||Alfredo Caguioa (acting)|
|Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights|
May 2008 – June 30, 2010
|Preceded by||Purificacion Quisumbing|
|Succeeded by||Etta Rosales|
Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa Magistrado de Lima
August 27, 1959
Iriga, Camarines Sur, Philippines
|Political party||Liberal Party (2015–present)|
|Aksyon Demokratiko (before 2010)|
|Alma mater||De La Salle University (BA)|
San Beda University (LLB)
|Net worth||₱8.3 million|
(Dec. 31, 2019)
Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa Magistrado de Lima (born August 27, 1959) is a Filipino lawyer, human rights activist, politician, and law professor currently serving as a Senator of the Philippines since 2016. She was appointed by president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights in May 2008 and she served in the commission until June 30, 2010, when she was appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III as the Philippines' Secretary of Justice.
She resigned as justice secretary on October 12, 2015, to focus on her candidacy for a seat in the Senate of the Philippines in the 2016 Philippine general election. She won one of the twelve contested seats and currently serves as a Philippine senator in the Philippines' 18th Congress.
She is a known critic of the Philippine Drug War of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. In February 2017, days after garnering international awards for her campaign against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, she was arrested and charged for being linked to the drug trade during her stint as justice secretary. Her arrest was non-bailable. The evidence against her consists of the testimony of prison inmates, police officers and former prison officials. The Department of Justice is considering the prison inmates' applications for pardon or clemency following their testimony. In October 2017, the prestigious Prize for Freedom was awarded to her for her stand against a regime accused of being dictatorial. She was designated as a 'prisoner of conscience' by numerous international human rights organizations. In May 2018, Amnesty International conferred to de Lima the first ever “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender” award during the Ignite Awards for Human Rights. De Lima is represented pro bono by Irwin Cotler and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
She is the eldest daughter of the former Philippine COMELEC Commissioner Vicente de Lima and Norma Magistrado. She was born and raised in Iriga of the province of Camarines Sur, Philippines. De Lima's aunt, Julie de Lima, married Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, making him Leila de Lima's uncle by marriage. 
De Lima completed her basic education, graduating as class valedictorian. She graduated in 1980 from the De La Salle University with an AB History degree. She finished her Bachelor of Laws (Salutatorian) degree at the San Beda College of Law in 1985. She placed 8th in the 1985 Philippine Bar Examinations with an 86.26% bar rating.
Early legal career
De Lima began her legal career as legal staff to Supreme Court associate justice Isagani Cruz from 1986 to 1989. She joined the Jardeleza Sobreviñas Diaz Hayudini and Bodegon Law Offices in 1989 where she served as a junior associate. She worked in the same position at the Jardeleza Law Offices from 1991 to 1993.
De Lima joined the Philippine government in 1993 as a clerk and secretary of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal. She resigned in 1995 to return to private practice. She then joined Roco, Buñag, Kapunan and Migallos law firm as its junior partner.
In 1998 she set up her own firm, The De Lima Law Firm, and served as counsel in various election cases, most notable of which was the electoral protest of Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III in the 2007 Senate election over the 12th seat occupied by Miguel Zubiri. De Lima also served as a legal counsel to the campaign of Alan Peter Cayetano during his campaign in the 2007 Philippine Senate election. She was also a professor of law at the San Beda College focusing on Election Law, Business Organizations, Persons and Family Relations, Transportation Law, and Statutory Construction from 1986 to 1994 and 2006 to 2007.
Human rights commissioner
Under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Leila de Lima was appointed Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, serving the position from 2008 to 2010. As human rights commissioner, de Lima 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. She investigated the Davao death squads, Jovito Palparan, and the Maguindanao massacre.
When Benigno Aquino III became president in 2010, de Lima was tapped as Secretary of the Department of Justice under the President-elect's new Cabinet. On July 2, 2010, de Lima took over the helm of the Philippine Department of Justice. Her alma mater, San Beda College, now known as San Beda University, conferred her the Most Outstanding Alumna awards for two years straight, in 2010 and 2011. On August 27, 2015, Justice Secretary de Lima assisted Isaias Samson, an expelled Minister of Iglesia ni Cristo, in filing a case against the sect. Allegations that de Lima used her position as Justice secretary with regards to the New Bilibid Prison resulted in criminal complaints against her in 2017. However, it would later be revealed that she was the first justice secretary to investigate the drug lords of New Bilibid Prison, running counter to the complaints filed against her. Despite this, her arrest was made concrete with the backing of Rodrigo Duterte.
Allegations of receiving drug protection money
On August 17, 2016, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte alleged that De Lima had been having an affair with her driver, Ronnie Dayan, who Duterte also alleged functioned as De Lima's collector for drug protection money when she was the Justice secretary. Duterte also alleged that De Lima's driver had been using drugs. Duterte later claimed that he had in his possession wiretaps and ATM records which confirmed his allegations. He explained that he had received them from an unnamed foreign country. In September 2016, De Lima was removed from her position chairing a Senate Justice and Human Rights committee investigating extrajudicial killings. De Lima, later, admitted that she had a relationship with Dayan many years ago. Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre called on convicted drug lords, former prison officials and police officers as prime witnesses against De Lima in the Congressional probe on illegal drug trafficking in the New Bilibid Prison. Dayan went into hiding after being advised by De Lima to not attend the House probe, but he was captured days later.
Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa had corroborated allegations that the former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila De Lima benefited from the illegal drug activities of his son Kerwin Espinosa in Eastern Visayas. Included in the Mayor's affidavit is a picture of De Lima with Kerwin Espinosa in Baguio City. Kerwin Espinosa later testified that he gave her a total of P8 milion to help finance her senatorial campaign during the May, 2016 elections.
De Lima condemned the Philippine Drug War and urged the Philippine Congress to investigate. She called for an end of vigilante killings of drug suspects. On her privilege speech at Senate on August 2, she noted that "we cannot wage the war against drugs with blood..." De Lima lamented the indifference of the new government to extrajudicial killings and warns that more innocent people will suffer if the killings fail to stop.
In December 2016, de Lima received praise from international human rights advocates and journalists for her criticism of Duterte's Drug War despite political repression against her. On February 17, 2017, a local court pressed drug-related charges against de Lima. On February 23, a Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court issued an arrest warrant against de Lima for allegedly violating the drug trafficking law. De Lima faces drug related cases for allegedly using her position as Secretary of Justice to acquire money from drug pushers to make their drug business operational even though they are imprisoned. De Lima turned herself in the following morning of February 24. She has also been referred to as a 'prisoner of conscience' by numerous international human rights organizations.
On July 19, 2019, the PNP–Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed charges against De Lima and other members of the opposition for "sedition, cyber libel, libel, estafa, harboring a criminal, and obstruction of justice". On February 10, 2020, she was cleared of all charges.
Calls for release
On March 16, 2017, the European Parliament condemned the wave of killings in the Philippines and called for De Lima's release. It expressed "serious concerns that the offences Senator De Lima has been charged with are almost entirely fabricated". Amnesty International regards De Lima as a "prisoner of conscience". Despite her imprisonment, de Lima continues to oppose the policies of Duterte and remains a member of the Philippine Senate and the Liberal Party. She was part of the debate regarding martial law. On May 29, imprisoned Senator De Lima wrote her iconic 94th letter while in prison, stating "People choose to be passive, perhaps because they feel responsible for voting for him—but no. You are not responsible for what he does after you vote for him. You are, however, responsible for letting him get away with things like this with your silence. By electing him, he has not bought your souls and conscience—on the contrary, he now owes you his accountability." In late July 2017, de Lima was visited by members of the European Parliament and the Liberal International. She was unable to vote against the martial law extension because of her detention. She petitioned her release but the Supreme Court rejected her request, and later slapped her with the affirmation of the release of numerous prisoners guilty of graft or corruption during the previous administrations. In September, the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) demanded the immediate release of de Lima and the restoration of human rights in the Philippines. In the same month, De Lima's ally in the Senate, Risa Hontiveros, caught justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II drafting fabricated charges against her through text messages during a hearing on the deaths of minors caused by the Philippine Drug War. The same tactic was used by the same secretary against De Lima, which led to her arrest. On June 5, 2020, the Amnesty International called on Philippine authorities demanding for an unconditional release of Senator de Lima. The organization also called for the authorities to end unreasonable restrictions imposed on her; permit communication with her family, lawyers, staff and doctors; and allow her to undertake her role as an elected legislator and a human rights defender.
Statements from prison
By October 2017, de Lima released numerous statements while in prison condemning the death toll of the Philippine Drug War which has increased to 14,000 Filipino deaths, where a huge number were children, infants, and teenagers. In November 2017, de Lima was awarded the Prize for Freedom by Liberal International, becoming the second Filipino to receive the prestigious award after Corazon Aquino. On December 5, 2017, she was again bestowed with the Leading Global Thinker award by Foreign Policy for the second consecutive year. In the same month, de Lima criticized Duterte for his pivot to China, citing what happened in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Cambodia, where those countries were put by China in a debt trap after accepting Chinese loans, leading to China's economic control on those countries. In January 2018, de Lima hit Duterte when it was revealed that the debt of the country ballooned to 6.6 trillion and the debt-to-GDP ratio expanded into 36. 4%. She also criticized the government for 'bowing down' to China amidst the disputes in the West Philippine Sea and Philippine Rise.
On February 1, 2018, Senator de Lima topped Asian Correspondent's list of five prominent Southeast Asian leaders and human rights defenders who are facing charges for defying the norm. On February 3, de Lima was dubbed as the "conscience of our time" by an independent news agency. On February 5, the Ombudsman of the Philippines cleared de Lima from all charges of financial terrorism and violation of the anti-graft law. On February 20, during the World Day of Social Justice, all ethics complaints filed against de Lima were junked by the Philippine Senate. A day later, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called for the immediate and unconditional release of Senator de Lima and cited her 'heroism' against corruption and autocracy. It was followed by the Senate minority bloc, liberal members of the House of Representatives, and Amnesty International pushing anew for the release of de Lima. On February 23, de Lima's supporters launched an e-book in the Quezon office of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, entitled, "Dispatches from Crame I", which contained almost half of all the letters and statements written by de Lima during her first year of incarceration. At the same time, the nationwide student walkout versus Duterte was made throughout the country, notably in Baguio, Tacloban City, Iloilo City, and Metro Manila. On February 24, de Lima marked her first year of imprisonment under the Duterte regime through a mass with her family and close friends. Journalists were barred from entering Camp Crame or interviewing anyone throughout the day. The spokesman of Duterte greeted de Lima on her first year 'celebration' in jail, and told media that the president wanted her to rot in jail.
On March 3, 2018, de Lima sought the approval of the court to let her attend the looming impeachment trial against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which was filed by Duterte cronies to control the judiciary. Sereno is the first woman to hold the position. She also sought Senate inquiries regarding the terms of loans of the government's infrastructure program, which has indebted the country vigorously in just a few months, and the anti-money laundering law compliance after the Ombudsman dropped all money laundering cases against Duterte due to the incumbent administration's threats. On March 10, a court approved de Lima's medical furlough due to problems in her liver. On March 13, the self-confessed drug lords used by the Department of Justice against de Lima were freed by the government due to 'lack of evidences'. On March 29, the Asia-Pacific magazine, The Diplomat, named de Lima among Southeast Asia's Women to Watch. On the same day, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) called for the release of de Lima due to the insufficiency of evidence filed against her. On April 4, de Lima filed a dismissal for the ouster petition filed against Chief Justice Sereno. On April 5, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who initiated the imprisonment of de Lima, resigned from his post after evidences on corruption surfaced to media attention, along with his acquittal of self-confessed drug lords. On April 20, de Lima was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 'World's 50 Greatest Leaders' for 2018. On May 13, de Lima joined liberal senators in condemning the ouster of Supreme Court Chief Justice Sereno through a quo warranto, which de Lima said was an unconstitutional way to oust an impeachable officer.
On May 28, the Muntinlupa court denied de Lima's plea to attend the law graduation of her youngest son, Vincent. The court stated that de Lima 'cannot be given a different treatment as that of other prisoners'. On May 29, Amnesty International conferred to de Lima the first ever “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender” award during the Ignite Awards for Human Rights. She was also declared one of the world's “Women Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”. On May 30, de Lima filed a motion to reconsider her plea to attend her son's graduation, citing convicted plunderer and ex-senator Jinggoy Estrada, who was allowed by the Sandinganbayan to attend his son's graduation in 2015. On June 1, de Lima filed a resolution seeking to probe the blacklisted Chinese firms that were banned by the World Bank due to corrupt practices, but still were accepted by the Duterte administration in the rehabilitation of Marawi. On the same day, the book of de Lima's spiritual adviser, Fr. Robert Reyes, entitled, "Prisoner of Conscience Prisoner of Hope", was launched. The book contained various accounts from different personalities giving their views of and conversations with de Lima while she is in prison. Hours before her son's graduation on June 3, Presiding Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 205 rejected de Lima's motion for reconsideration in attending to her son's law graduation. On June 3, de Lima filed a resolution seeking to probe the state-sponsored immigration of Chinese citizens into the Philippines which has caused the unemployment of Filipinos. On June 5, de Lima called solicitor-general Jose Calida as a 'role model in government corruption' after Calida's multi-million corruption scandal surfaced. Calida was one of the personalities that spearheaded de Lima's arrest. On June 6, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, without the ousted Chief Justice, upheld the 'constitutionality' of de Lima's arrest based on drug charges filed by Aguirre, blasting calls from international human rights organizations. The Supreme Court added that 'no further pleadings will be entertained', effectively blocking all remedies for release. On June 28, the Senate president officially visited de Lima in prison, announcing his support for de Lima's presence in the ICC withdrawal case.
On July 25, de Lima wrote a letter expressing her dismay on the ascension of Duterte ally, former president, and convicted corrupt politician, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as the country's new House Speaker. De Lima, however, added that Arroyo's rise to power via unconstitutional means has led to the rise of the country's 'true minority'. On July 28, de Lima formally accepted the Prize for Freedom in absentia. On July 31, de Lima called on Congress to pass a bill seeking to prohibit premature campaigning in elections. On the same day, she also pushed for a bill that seeks to increase the pension of qualified indigent senior citizens.
On August 1, de Lima welcomed the indictment against porkbarrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. On August 3, Ronnie Dayang, one of the persons used by the Department of Justice to imprison de Lima, formally refused to testify against the senator's alleged 'disobedience case'. On August 4, de Lima and other senators spearheaded the need to probe the conditions of displaced persons in war-torn areas of Mindanao, notably Marawi. On August 6, the Supreme Court of the Philippines denied de Lima's plea to allow her to join the Senate debates regarding Duterte's initiative to withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court. On August 7, de Lima pushed for the passage of the calamity leave bill, which would provide 5 days of calamity leave for workers. On August 10, eighteen months after her imprisonment, de Lima was finally arraigned in the drug cases established by the Department of Justice. She also sought the passage of the Pedestrian Safety Act. On August 11, de Lima filed a bill on incentivizing the use of solar energy in households. On the same day, she joined other senators in calling for a ban on single-occupancy vehicles on EDSA. On August 18, senator de Lima slammed president Duterte's remarks belittling Robredo for her leadership abilities. On the same day, she expressed the need to probe the Bureau of Immigration's P869-M loss from express lane fees.
On August 24, minority senators called on the Supreme Court to allow de Lima to be present during the ICC withdrawal case through video conference. On August 25, de Lima called for a Senate probe into delays in the free irrigation law's mandated IRR. On August 27, on the birthday of senator de Lima, she released her second book, entitled, "Fight for Freedom and Other Writings", which collects her speeches, letters, and notes, as well as letters of support from prominent personalities such as Vice President Leni Robredo, former Hong Kong Legislative Council Member Emily Lau, and Liberal International President Juli Minoves. On the same day, Amnesty International called for the dropping of charges again, adding that de Lima is a 'prisoner of conscience'. Opposition lawmakers also called for the release of de Lima. On August 30, de Lima filed a bill that would raise the statutory age of rape to 18.
Justice and extra-judicial killings (EJK)
De Lima, who chaired the Commission on Human Rights and was Justice Secretary, is the face of the anti-EJK campaign in the Philippines. She is against the brutal ways propelled by the deadly Philippine Drug War. The Duterte government maintains that the motive behind her criticism against the government and the drug war was to protect herself and her accomplices from the threat this campaign poses against them. She has been imprisoned on the basis of testimonies of convicted drug lords who were not included in the government's drug charges against her and who were promised executive clemency by Duterte officials.
De Lima has said that 'poverty is the greatest injustice among Filipinos', however, acknowledged that in reality, poverty cannot be totally eradicated, but through education, it can be reduced. She also stated that she aims to spearhead a law that would give free education, especially to the children of farmers. De Lima supported the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act in the Senate, despite not being able to vote for it as she was imprisoned and barred by the Duterte administration. She also supported the LGBT-backed SOGIE Equality Bill, although barred from voting for its passage.
In June 2020, De Lima called on the Philippines Senate to investigate alleged reports that the Philippine National Police was "red-tagging" progressive groups through its official social media accounts. She said such moves were clearly intended to suppress legitimate forms of dissent and protest, as well as undermine the country's democratic institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Climate change and disasters
De Lima believes that the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will serve the Filipino people well as it can be used to aid the Philippines when disasters strike. She is also in favor of the Paris Agreement, especially since the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change.
De Lima supports the strong strategic partnership of the United States and the Philippines, calling the Supreme Court's favorable ruling on EDCA as a "much needed boost" to the country's armed forces modernization. De Lima was a member of the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission. In the disputes of the Philippines with China, specifically the West Philippine Sea, she believes that the best tactic of the Philippines is through the international courts and diplomacy and to push the Hague tribunal ruling as it favors the Philippines. For the Philippine Rise issue, De Lima reiterates that the territory is within Philippine jurisdiction as it was handed down by an international court to the Philippines back in 2011.
Peace in Mindanao
De Lima was one of the few personalities in government who continued to back the Bangsamoro Basic Law as she believed that Muslim Filipinos have the right to be given such legislation, despite the odds against its passage. She defended the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Basic Law against anti-Muslim personalities.
Honors and recognition
- MetroBank Foundation Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance (2010)
- Excellent Public Servant Award (2010)
- Defender of People's Rights (2010)
- “Agent of Change” Award (2010)
- Most Outstanding Alumna Award 2010 by San Beda University
- Most Outstanding Alumna Award 2011 by San Beda University
- 2016 Global Thinker Award by Foreign Policy
- Top Most Influential People for 2017 by Time Magazine
- Women Human Rights Defenders for 2017 by Amnesty International
- On October 31, 2017, Liberal International awarded de Lima the Prize For Freedom, the federation's highest human rights honor. De Lima is the second Filipino to obtain the award after former President Corazon Aquino in 1987.
- 2017 Leading Global Thinker Award
- World's 50 Greatest Leaders for 2018 by Fortune Magazine
- 2018 Southeast Asia's Women to Watch by The Diplomat
- 2018 Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender Award by Amnesty International
- 2018 Women Human Rights Defenders Under Threat recognized by Amnesty International
- 2018 Human Rights Defenders recognized at the Human Rights Defender World Summit in Paris
On February 22, 2018, senator Leila de Lima announced that she shall launch an e-book, entitled, "Dispatches from Crame I" on February 23, a day before the anniversary of her incarceration. On February 23, the e-book was officially launched in the Quezon city office of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. The e-book contained all the statements and letters written by de Lima since she was detained on February 24, 2017. It also contained statements from her supporters from various local and international organizations and personalities.
On June 1, 2018, the book of de Lima's spiritual adviser, Fr. Robert Reyes, entitled, "Prisoner of Conscience Prisoner of Hope", was launched. The book contained various accounts from different personalities giving their views of and conversations with de Lima during her incarceration.
On August 27, 2018, on the birthday of senator de Lima, she released her second book, entitled, "Fight for Freedom and Other Writings", which collects her speeches, letters, and notes, as well as letters of support from prominent personalities such as Vice President Leni Robredo, former Hong Kong Legislative Council Member Emily Lau, and Liberal International President Juli Minoves.
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|Senate of the Philippines|
Aquilino Pimentel III
| Chair of the Philippine Senate Electoral Reforms and
People's Participation Committee
Aquilino Pimentel III
Aquilino Pimentel III
| Chair of the Philippine Senate
Justice and Human Rights Committee
Richard J. Gordon
| Secretary of Justice
| Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights