MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday hailed President Duterte’s inclusion in Time magazine’s “100 most influential people,” but decried the magazine’s failure to mention the drug-related charges against his critic Sen. Leila de Lima.
Duterte and De Lima were included in the list, which also had actors, musicians, business leaders, activists and scientists.
The President was among the “leaders” while the senator was included in the “icons” category.
Duterte had topped the online poll that preceded the magazine’s selection of the TIME 100, besting Pope Francis, US President Donald Trump and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“The fact remains that President Duterte is supported by a majority of Filipinos in his campaign against illegal drugs, crime and corruption,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“In the case of Senator De Lima, Time conveniently failed to clarify that she was jailed not for her criticisms against the administration but because an independent court found probable cause in support of the criminal charges against her for alleged violation of the law on illegal drugs,” he added.
De Lima, who started a Senate inquiry on the killings linked to Duterte’s clampdown on illegal drugs, was arrested and jailed last February on charges that she took bribes from convicted drug lords. She has denied the allegations and claimed that the charges against her were politically motivated.
While the write-up on Duterte was mostly a rebuke of his brutal war on illegal drugs, De Lima was portrayed as a figure of resistance against “strongman” rule.
The TIME write-up was penned by Cesar Gaviria, the former Colombian president who chased notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. In a New York Times commentary, he wrote that Duterte was repeating his mistakes as “throwing more soldiers and police at drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse.”
Gaviria’s comments did not sit well with Duterte, who called the former Colombian leader an “idiot.”
In his article, he said the Philippine leader’s approach on narcotics was “as ill-considered as his grasp of history,” noting that the war has alarmed governments, human-rights organizations and faith-based groups even when Duterte was “winning high approval ratings at home.”
“After spending billions, I discovered that the war was unwinnable and the human costs were devastating. The cure was infinitely worse than the disease,” Gaviria described his own campaign against illegal drugs as he predicted many more will die as Duterte learns his lesson.
In contrast, Samantha Power, a former UN ambassador, portrayed De Lima as a brave opposition figure: “Most opposition politicians have kept their heads down, knowing Duterte is both terrifyingly brutal and massively popular. But Senator De Lima has become Duterte’s most vocal critic – a role her friends call suicidal.”
Power said De Lima’s imprisonment was a “disturbing testament to the current solidarity among strongmen and the global surge in impunity that De Lima’s cause has not been more embraced.
De Lima said she is deeply humbled and encouraged by her inclusion in Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2017.
In a statement issued from the Philippine National Police Custodial Center where she is detained on drug charges, she vowed to continue opposing Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.
“For many of our countrymen, it is more convenient to huddle up close to Malacañang and reap the benefits of being a sycophant, rather than take the road less travelled but be the victim of political persecution by a vengeful strongman,” the senator said.
“I could have chosen to stay silent and dance with the regime’s music, but that would have been a betrayal of the country, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the fight for justice,” she said. “I cannot for once contemplate capitulating to the dark side that this regime now embodies in exchange for a comfortable but opportunist life.”
De Lima said she would also be betraying her father, sons, and her family if she remained silent to the human rights violations of the administration.
The senator renewed her call for international attention and action on the extrajudicial killings as local human rights advocates need the world to keep watch. – With Paolo Romero