MANILA – It was a nightmare she never imagined, and would not wish on her worst enemy, but Senator Leila M. de Lima nonetheless continues to grapple with the reality of detention for charges that she has always insisted were trumped up to silence her criticism to President Duterte’s human rights record.
In detention, the senator celebrated her 58th birthday in a simple gathering attended by families, friends and associates on Sunday, August 27.
Bishop Socrates Villegas officiated the Mass, along with Fathers Albert Alejo, Robert Reyes, Hector Cañon and Flavie Villanueva inside the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police, in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
In his homily, Villegas offered three questions to ask oneself, given that birthdays are also a time for self-reflection: What makes you happy? What makes you afraid? Where are you going?
Villegas said that only happiness with God stays. On being afraid, Villegas advised: “Be afraid only of sin, because sin separates us from God,” noting how nations living in sin are separated from God and thus, crumble.
Referring to De Lima’s detention, Villegas added: “Not even the walls of this prison can separate you from God.” Ultimately, Villegas said that “every step we should take on earth should lead us to heaven and bring heaven here on earth.”
The Bishop ended his homily by thanking De Lima for “inspiring, touching, challenging and teaching people how to love God and His people.”
Fr. Alejo, for his part, asked De Lima to recall what she was doing on her birthday last year, as he read an entry from his personal journal.
In it, he shared how he finally got in touch with De Lima on the night of her birthday a year ago to ask if they could meet for “a very sensitive and urgent matter”. The matter, as it turns out, was about Edgar Matobato, a confessed hitman of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).
Describing it as a “grace-filled moment”, the priest recalled Matobato saying that he trusts De Lima – then the Senate Justice panel’s chair – in coming out with the truth about the rampant killings in Davao City which is being replicated nationwide ever since then Mayor Duterte assumed presidency.
De Lima confirmed Fr. Alejo’s story, saying it “definitely triggered” her situation now, noting her 187th day in detention. Considered by groups here and abroad as a “prisoner of conscience”, De Lima said there is “beauty in solitude and suffering”.
De Lima said she has grown closer to God and now has more time to read the Bible, along with other books that were given to her by friends and supporters who have visited her.
If anything, De Lima said she prays that this will be the first and last time that she celebrates her birthday in detention.