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Duterte Political Opponent Jailed In Philippines


Next we learn what happened to a woman who challenged her president. The president is Rodrigo Duterte, the elected leader of the Philippines. The woman criticized his war on drugs, you know, the campaign in which the president has encouraged vigilante violence. In just under a year, police and civilians have killed some 7,000 people. Very few of the killers in the Philippines have been jailed, but the president's critic was. Reporter Michael Sullivan went to see her. Hi, Michael.


INSKEEP: Where did you find her exactly?

SULLIVAN: I found Leila De Lima at Camp Crame, it's the Philippines national police headquarters in Metro Manila, and she's been there for more than three months now. She's allowed no phone, no laptop, no Internet and no air conditioning. And on the afternoon I was there, it was 93 degrees. But she looked remarkably composed, given the circumstances, a 57-year-old woman in a white blouse and gray pants who was managing not to sweat in the heat. I didn't.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) You didn't manage not to sweat. I can imagine not. Well, who is she exactly?

SULLIVAN: She's a first-time senator, and she's a former justice minister. And before that, she was also the head of the Philippines Human Rights Commission. But you've got to remember, Steve, that President Duterte doesn't like being lectured to about human rights. Remember his comments about President Obama last year when the U.S. called Duterte's drug war into question.

And yet, Duterte and that drug war, they're still really popular a year in. His approval rating in the latest polls is about 80 percent, and that might help explain why there hasn't been that big a stink about a sitting senator being locked up, allegedly for accepting bribes from drug dealers to fund her Senate campaign.

INSKEEP: Those are the charges against her, but what is the dispute that she's been having with the president of the Philippines?

SULLIVAN: It's a long-running dispute. She's tangled with him before over his alleged links to the Davao Death Squad in the city where he was mayor for so long before becoming president. They do not get along. Here's Duterte with a warning to De Lima just a few weeks after he was elected.


PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: Do not pick a fight with me. You will lose.

SULLIVAN: Do not pick a fight with me, he said. You will lose. But less than a month after Duterte took office with a body count in his war on drugs already in the hundreds, De Lima went ahead and picked that fight anyway, Steve, calling for a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings. Duterte was furious.


DUTERTE: De Lima, you are finished.

SULLIVAN: So Duterte then embarked on a very public campaign of shaming De Lima, accusing her of being an immoral woman who slept with her driver and took money from drug dealers to finance her Senate campaign. Duterte even suggested she should just go hang herself. De Lima, though, was defiant.


LEILA DE LIMA: If this is his way of stopping the Senate's investigation of the extrajudicial killings, he can try until he finally silences me. But I think it is already clear that what is being done to me is what will happen to anyone who does not bow to the wishes of the president.

SULLIVAN: Jose Manuel Diokno is dean of the law school at De La Salle University in Manila, and he's one of De Lima's lawyers.

JOSE MANUEL DIOKNO: She really got it from the president himself and from everybody else in this government and from the trolls, and that included a fake sex video and all the same for one thing. And that was just to destroy her reputation.

RISA HONTIVEROS: He seems to react disproportionately to women who challenge his version of reality.

SULLIVAN: That's opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, who says that might help explain why De Lima now spends her days in a jail cell, a woman who says she used to be the one putting people away when she was justice minister.

INSKEEP: Well, Michael Sullivan, this raises some pretty significant questions - first because, in a democracy, you're supposed to be allowed to dissent, second because she's not just a citizen but also an elected official. In the United States, you're not supposed to be able to jail a sitting member of Congress. How is this sitting senator spending her days in jail?

SULLIVAN: She is doing a lot of reading, Steve. She's trying to keep up with what's happening in the Senate, even though she can't vote. And she's trying to keep up on her case. She gets up early, she says, around 5 or 5:30. She prays and reads the Bible, something she didn't do so much before, she says. And she exercises. Her 83-year-old mother, though, she says, doesn't know she's here. It'd be too hard on her, the family decided.

INSKEEP: Well, when you got a chance to visit with her face-to-face and asked her about these charges that she took drug money, that she was an immoral woman, what did she say?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Steve, she denies the charges against her. But she admits she really didn't think she'd end up in jail. And more than three months into her detention, she says she has less and less confidence she'll be freed anytime soon because, she says, Duterte is supposed to be projecting this strongman image to the rest of the world. And releasing her, she says, wouldn't fit that image.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Michael Sullivan just back from the Philippines. Thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.