Press Release
July 29, 2018

Sen. Leila M. de Lima's acceptance speech during the awarding ceremony of the 2018 Liberal International Prize for Freedom

(Sen. Leila M. de Lima's acceptance speech, delivered by her brother Vicente "Vicboy" de Lima II, during the awarding ceremony of the 2018 Liberal International Prize for Freedom held at Novotel Manila, Araneta Center on July 28)

A glorious evening to all our friends and fellow defenders of human rights who have taken the time to be here tonight.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge our guests and fellow members of the global liberal family, who have travelled from all of the world just to be here today. I also acknowledge my fellow Liberal Party members, particularly, our Chairman, Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Gerona Robredo, who graciously joins tonight's celebration as our Guest of Honor.

I am truly grateful that life has brought me down this path. If I had lived the relatively quiet life of a private law practitioner, of a daughter, a sister, a mother and a grandmother, I assuredly would never have crossed paths with many of you here tonight.

How blessed am I, therefore, that all of the people gathered here - including our honored guests from abroad - are here to join me in giving thanks for the honor of being this year's awardee of Liberal International's Prize for Freedom?

Extremely. I am extremely and unconditionally blessed, so much so that there is no room in my heart for regrets or second thoughts. No room for "could haves", "would haves" or "should haves". I am where I am now because I did the right thing.

Therefore, this is a night of both thanksgiving and reaffirmation.

I may have been the most vocal and one of the first to raise the alarm against the spate of extrajudicial killings perpetrated under this regime, but I do not stand alone, and many laid the foundation long before I entered the public service. So, allow me please to give thanks to some of them.

First of all, let us all celebrate those who had built this world we live in today. In the words of Edmund Burke, "Society is a partnership of the dead, the living and the unborn."

As bleak as it may seem now, we know that it could be worse and, in fact, generations of human beings before us did, indeed, had to suffer worse fates.

But out of those ashes this new world was rebuilt. Made stronger by the simple fact that it is more humane and, therefore, more conscious of the dignity and value of human life.

And that is why we have such instruments now as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that we may not have to go through the same horrors, and commit the same mistakes of those who came before us. It is the beacon that transcends time by shining its light all the way from the past, in order to guide our way here and now, and into future.

Secondly, whatever I am doing now, it is to honor my father, former COMELEC Commissioner Vicente De Lima, who always cautioned me to do only what is right and justifiable. In two days, we will be commemorating his 6th death anniversary. And though he is decidedly part of a generation that has passed, I am determined to continue honoring him by doing nothing that would bring shame to him, to our family or to the public service that he himself was once a part of.

Thirdly, I acknowledge the influence in my life of three Filipino Presidents.

As a recipient of the LI Prize for Freedom award, I stand on the shoulders of a giant.

As a public servant, as a Filipino, as an advocate for the ideals that LI stands for, and as a woman, I can only hope to emulate the example that has been set by former President Corazon C. Aquino. I find inspiration in the grace, strength, wisdom and courage she had displayed in the face of various adversities, including personal tragedies.

She was, and always will be, the epitome of a world-renowned advocate of democracy, peace, and the empowerment of women. She did not just fight and defeat a dictator, she was instrumental in the creation of a Constitution that was intended to ensure that one will never rise and wrest power away from the people ever again.

She left a legacy that you and I are honored to continue and protect.

Next, I acknowledge the role of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in setting me on this path, when she appointed me back in 2008, as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. It was during a critical time during her Administration, when the human rights record of the Philippine Government was sounding an alarm all over the world.

You might not have expected to hear me acknowledge her, but it is true. At the time, I was called the "surprise choice". And I was. No one was more surprised by it than me. I had no background in human rights, but - as many of you know - I am not one to back off from a challenge.

I was, and still am, faithful to the mandate I was given - the CHR and I embarked on investigations into extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, deaths of civilians at the hands of policemen and other state agents, heinous crimes, among others. In fact, the Commission travelled all the way to Davao to investigate the Davao Death Squad because it was brought to our collective attention by Prof. Philip Alston, who was then the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Everything that I have done since then - in championing Human Rights, fighting for the Rule of Law and defending against corruption, abuse and impunity - has its roots in that fateful appointment. I do believe, however, that she has since realized that she got more than she bargained for.

Finally, I give thanks to the President I am most honored to have worked with, President Benigno S. Aquino III.

God truly works in mysterious ways - that I ended up serving 5 of my most fulfilling years in public service under a President I did not even know personally before my appointment as his Secretary of Justice.

Our faith in the Rule of Law, in holding public officials accountable, in the importance of truth and selfless public service, and in defending human rights were so aligned that it didn't matter that we've known each other for such a relatively short time.

I thank him for his faith in me, then and now.

Which brings me to the real reason we are here today.

I know very well that you are not here just to honor one person. Our friends in the international community did not travel here and brave our monsoon rains and storms just to join a celebration.

We are here to profess our continued commitment to the ideals of democracy, rule of law and human rights and freedoms.

We are here because our work is far from being done.

And what is our work?

I find inspiration in the weather.

Dictators, oppressive leaders and human rights abusers are national and transnational disasters. They come bringing violence, destruction and terror to the populace. When they leave, they leave behind devastated nations, dead and dying people, hopelessness, helplessness, and a precarious world order.

We are what protects the people from these national and transnational disasters.

We are the people in the lighthouses and watchtowers, who call out warnings that a destructive force is bearing down on us. We are always on the alert so that people can afford to live their lives being secure in the knowledge that watchdogs like us are ever alert and ever willing to risk ourselves just to sound the alarm when it becomes necessary.

We are the breakwater that protects the people from the pounding waves. We defend them from abusers and, in doing so, make ourselves the target.

We are the levee that regulates the flow of raging floods, that they may not devastate people's lives, property and security.

Institutions like the International Criminal Court are our disaster insurance. If the worst should ever come to pass, there is a mechanism by which we can bring both accountability and redress for the victims.

Luckily for us, unlike natural disasters, the enemies of democracy are not irrepressible. They may be megalomaniacs, but they are mere humans who fear free-thinking people whom they cannot control. Being mortal, they can be stopped and brought to justice.

So if we maintain and defend the foundations of our freedoms - such as the UDHR, national Constitutions that recognize and protect democracy and human rights, and national and international institutions that uphold the rule of law - all together we can be Stormbreakers - one that neutralizes a potentially devastating force, long before it can take hold. And that means that our work is never done.

We do not obtain disaster insurance or build breakwaters, levees, watchtowers and lighthouses only when the storm is already raging. They have to be built and maintained, even and especially, during times of calm. So that they are there, ready to protect, when the time comes.

Dictators, oppressors and abusers come and go. But we, the defenders of the people, can never rest.

Even if we have to start from teaching a whole new generation something so basic and simple that human life and human rights are not opposites.

That there is no dichotomy between the two.

That one cannot be defended by trading it off with the other.

That one cannot claim to fight for human lives, while their hands are stained red with the blood of their victims.

That anyone who suggests otherwise is no better than a wolf that pretends to be a shepherd, and delivers the flock to slaughter.

In the vernacular, that is the mantra of the bantay-salakay, or the guardians who themselves attack those they are guarding.

So, to answer Juvenal's ancient question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guardians?

Tonight, we declare, it is us. We guard the guardians.

Here in the Philippines, I am confident to know that, as I declare this, I stand with my fellow members of the Liberal Party under the leadership of LP President, Senator Francis "Kiko" N. Pangilinan, and the principled courage exhibited by our Chairperson, Vice President Leni Robredo.

She herself is fighting a battle on her own front to uphold the will of the people while, at the same time, continuing to sound off on critical issues affecting our people and our sovereignty. I hold her as an outstanding example that though we, as a Party and as individual members, along with our allies, may be referred to as the "minority", we are nonetheless never silent, nor will we ever allow ourselves to be cowed into subservience.

Though I have been in detention now for 520 days, the surreality of being so physically constrained, yet so spiritually liberated and uplifted is a reward all on its own.

Again, thank you for this honor. I humbly submit myself to the protection of democracy, freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. Thank you, Liberal International!

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