The longest-held hostage
Let me get this out before all else: Hear ye! While I do not wish it, a curse may befall those who intentionally delay the legal processes to block the release of former senator Leila de Lima from her more than five years of solitary confinement. For those concerned, time to do the right thing. In Pinoy street-corner lingo: May araw din kayo. It is a truism that comes from the ancients.
It may sound hyperbolic to say that De Lima is the longest-held hostage in the Philippines. More than five years, in solitary confinement in a police detention facility, for what clearly appear to be trumped-up charges. But it is not hyperbolic when one considers how she ended up being a real-life hostage, early morning last Sunday, when Feliciano Sulayao Jr. of the Abu Sayyaf Group barged into her detention area and held her hostage at knifepoint.
The weapon: a metal fork that had been sharpened into a deadly instrument. The hostage-taker’s demands, as per police account: proof of life of the other two would-be escapees who, unknown to the hostage-taker, had been neutralized by then, plus a Hummer, and a chopper. Huh, who would lend a Hummer?
All three would-be escapees ended up dead, with two of them gunned down earlier, while Sulayao, before he could plunge his weapon into De Lima’s chest, took a bullet from marksman police Col. Mark Pespes. How elementary—the real-life Papillon would have guffawed at the escape attempt.
The dead, as Muslim customs dictate, must have been buried by now, while De Lima must still be nursing the trauma from what she called “a near-death experience.” A dramatic Sunday morning it was that generated more hows and what-ifs than satisfactory answers, foremost among them being De Lima’s long-drawn solitary confinement—and, oh, a metal fork as deadly weapon. Oh, but thanks to the police’s swift action right in their Camp Crame HQ, the drama did not last long. What a laughing matter it would have been had the three made it out.
De Lima is, hyperbolically, literally, figuratively, and metaphorically, a hostage of a legal process that was allegedly conjured up to silence her, allegedly per the all-consuming desire of former president Rodrigo “Kill, kill, kill” Duterte, whose toes she had stepped on when she was senator. Never mind that several of the main witnesses against her have recanted her alleged drug deals when she was justice secretary (before she became senator). It is now up to those concerned, the judges and prosecution especially, to allow her to post bail, give her a “furlough” as suggested, whatever that means, or put her under house arrest. Anything (even for pogi and brownie points) so she could breathe the air of freedom, while she continues to prove her innocence.
Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman, he who espouses difficult causes, cited weak evidence against De Lima that should compel the current president to do the right thing. “The President is perfectly correct in desisting from meddling with the courts in the cases of De Lima, but he must be reminded that while the adjudication of criminal cases belongs to the judiciary, the prosecution of such cases is an executive function under his control and supervision pursuant to the Constitution.” A legal ABC there.
But shall the current President defy his predecessor?
In 2021, to mark Sen. De Lima’s fourth year in prison, I ran in this space a four-part Q and A (“Conversation with Sen. Leila,” Feb. 18, 25, and March 4, 11). A question I asked: What are your moments of prayer and silence like?
Her answer: “It’s usually in the early morning and early evening. It is very intimate and truly a spiritual communion with God, humbling and full of reflections. I pour out my thoughts and emotions to Jesus.
“Amid the persecution, my faith in God has never faltered. Surrendering your fears, doubts and anger to God does not mean consenting to the abuse and suffering. Rather, it is accepting the painful struggle in the promise that nothing lasts forever, and that good will always prevail. ‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’”
De Lima was praying the rosary when the hostage-taker grabbed her at knifepoint. A near-death experience, indeed.
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