From behind bars, De Lima keeps reaping international recognition

April 23, 2018 - 5:44 PM
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While detained, Sen. Leila de Lima is reaping accolades. Fortune magazine recently named her on the annual list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders.(Philstar/File photo)

With a slew of international accolades she has reaped over the past year, Sen. Leila de Lima could still be the most visible critic of the Duterte administration despite her time in detention since February last year.

Last week, De Lima, who is in jail over drug-related charges, was named one of 2018’s 50 World Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine.

Fortune’s editors, who vetted the candidates, said the senator has set herself apart from the many supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war.

“De Lima, who headed a committee investigating hundreds of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s leadership, has been a noble exception,” the Fortune report said.

Fortune’s list this year focused on “the power of unbundling” or breaking up enterprises or nations to make them more effective.

“Unbundling means disaggregating enterprises of all kinds, from the smallest startups to entire nations,” the article said.

Recognition while in detention

De Lima’s arrest made headlines around the world and drew condemnation from human rights groups. Behind bars for more than a year now, De Lima hand writes statements and proposes Senate resolutions through her staff, often questioning Duterte’s policies.

Exactly one year ago, TIME named her and political foe President Rodrigo Duterte among the world’s 100 Most Influential People.

Explaining the roster, TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said her team chose people who are “active opponents” of one another, and described De Lima as Duterte’s nemesis “whose denunciation of Duterte’s bloody crusade against drug dealers has landed her in prison.

Amnesty International also cited the senator as one of the people in its report of “Human Rights Defenders Under Threat” due to her arrest. Although not exactly an honor, the list identifies De Lima as an international human rights advocate whom the rights group is urging protection for.

Last November, De Lima became a recipient of the Prize for Freedom by Liberation International, which described her as a “political prisoner.”

She was also honored among 2017’s 100 Global Thinkers by international magazine Foreign Policy. Her inclusion in the list was for “openly defying Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — and paying the price.”

Divisive figure

De Lima had been campaigning for human rights throughout her career. As chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, she probed vigilante killings by a death squad under Duterte’s watch as mayor of Davao City.

As justice secretary, De Lima spearheaded efforts allowed the Philippines to be removed from the United States’ human trafficking watch list by the United States.

But despite her professional accomplishments, De Lima has found herself up against the wide popularity of Duterte. His supporters were quick to question the decision making behind the honors:

She also ordered investigations into a legislative fund scam that led to the arrest of three opposition senators under the previous administration’s campaign against corruption. Later, she was criticized for enabling selective justice.

And yet there are others who keep on cheering her on.