Leila de Lima: Keeping the faith

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Leila de Lima: Keeping the faith
Former Sen. Leila de Lima keeps a vow to Our Lady of Manaoag.
Photos from Leila de Lima’s office

The day after she was released on bail after nearly seven years in detention, former Sen. Leila de Lima didn’t go to the spa.

Instead, she visited two mothers.

The Virgin Mary, whom she calls “Mama Mary,” in her shrine at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Manaoag, and her 91-year-old mother in Iriga City in the Bicol Region.

“I never lost faith,” De Lima, who staunchly maintains she was incarcerated for fabricated drug charges, said in an interview with media who waited for her in the shrine grounds.

The day after she walked out of her cell, De Lima, who was justice secretary during the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III, motored three hours out of Manila to Pangasinan for another kind of rejuvenation, in what many consider a spiritual spa — the Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine.

To the shrine and basilica, many miracles have been attributed.

De Lima told media she has always been a devotee of Our Lady of Manaoag, attending Sunday Mass there twice a month since 2012 or 2013, till she was jailed without bail in February 2017, over six months after she took office as senator.

She revealed in the chance interview that she kept a statue of the Virgin of Manaoag in her detention cell in Camp Crame and vowed in prayer that she would visit Manaoag as soon as she got out of detention.

“I did not want to break my promise,” she said.

“Iniyakan ko ito,” she added, when her security and legal teams advised her against the pilgrimage to Manaoag. She reportedly stayed for 20 minutes.

It is, indeed, a reflection of character that the lady imprisoned for almost seven years despite her acquittal in two of three cases against her and the recantation of key witnesses, has kept the faith.

“I admire her courage, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. She was able to keep her faith, her faith made her keep her trust in the Lord, her trust made her keep the right attitude. In spite of everything, she was grateful. I believe she knows that everything is grace,” said Fr. Dave Concepcion, chaplain of the Sto. Niño de Paz in Greenbelt, when I asked him for his thoughts on De Lima’s obvious unwavering faith.

“I have never been in jail, but I know how it feels. It is not easy. It breaks my heart every time I minister to someone in prison. I know what they have lost. Perhaps, that was the reason why Jesus allowed himself to be put in prison, to journey with them, saying, ‘I know how it feels’.”

For Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD, De Lima’s keeping her vow to visit the Manaoag Shrine reflects her integrity.

“Integrity! It was a promise to fulfill to Mama Mary. The trip, despite the threats, is a glaring reflection of how she values the Truth and her conviction to pursue it,” he said.


In July 2017, shortly after Noynoy Aquino stepped down from the presidency, my colleague Büm Tenorio Jr. and I were able to interview Noynoy in his Times St. home. He was very relaxed and was such a gracious host, preparing a feast for former Malacañang reporter Aurea Calica who was celebrating her birthday that day. At the time, De Lima had been in detention for five months already.

Büm asked the former president what his daily prayer is.

“There are several people close to me who are happy and healthy, so I start out, I ask for their health and freedom from pain. Second, it’s still about guidance, to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. I pray for both Leni (Robredo) and Leila, and the trials they are undergoing, that they sustain even the wisdom to go through this. The strength also to withstand everything…”

It seems the former president’s prayers, from earth at the time and from heaven now, have been working.


Nelson Mandela, Ninoy Aquino and Aung San Suu Kyi

When I was in third grade at the Assumption Convent Iloilo, the nuns took us once to the City Jail to visit the inmates and to perform a folk dance at their Christmas program. I was one of those chosen to dance the “Itik-itik.” I used to wonder why there was such sympathy for people, who in my child’s mind, had done wrong. But even then, I had started to glean the meaning of compassion. Why we show mercy and kindness even to those perceived to have gone wrong. As an adult, I would realize that not all who land in jail are justly convicted. And after an outreach mission to the Muntinlupa Penitentiary when I was already an adult, I realized that even for those convicted, all is not lost. Reform and redemption are always possible.

History teaches us that many of those who have been trapped in a cell, especially political prisoners, are transformed by their suffering and through the fire, have not only emerged whole but stronger. Unbreakable.

I remember that when the late South African President and democracy hero Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1988 after 27 years in jail, I told myself, “That’s longer than the number of years since I was born.” Twenty seven years without freedom, for his principles.

Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, serving from 1994 to 1999 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Ninoy Aquino was in a military prison for seven years and seven months and his detention sharpened, not dampened, his zeal to be of service to the Filipino people. His assassination sparked a shifting of the tectonic plates of history in the Philippines.

A Myanmar military court has sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to a further seven years in prison, taking her overall jail time to 33 years. She was first arrested by Burma’s military government in 1989 and held under house arrest until 1995. She was placed under house arrest a second time in 2000 and released in 2002 and eventually in 2010. She is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I wonder what De Lima is destined for.



(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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