As someone who still pays for a weekly subscription, I’m very disappointed at TIME Magazine editors. I just realised that after all these years reading about and admiring people featured on their annual 100 most influential list, it turns out that some on the list include people whose achievements were simply romanticised, exaggerated or completely untrue.
Take the write-up about Filipino Senator Leila De Lima who is currently detained on various charges for her alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs at the Philippine national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prison. TIME included the senator in the category “Icons” as if De Lima is someone to be admired. Well, if you live in an alternate universe and prefer someone who is loud, a bully and lacks moral values, then you likely would consider De Lima to be an “icon”.
First of all, the write-up, which was written by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, was so short, lacked facts and details about the cases against De Lima. She implied that the only reason De Lima landed in jail was because she is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte…
But Senator de Lima has become Duterte’s most vocal critic—a role her friends call suicidal. Last August de Lima convened a hearing on Duterte’s drug-war killings, featuring devastating testimony from a former hit man. Duterte allies stripped de Lima of her Justice Committee chair. In February she was jailed.
Power did not even bother to know the facts about the cases against De Lima. She also had the nerve to imply that De Lima’s colleagues in the Senate were in cahoots with Duterte and not acting independently when they stripped De Lima of her committee chairmanship. Never mind that De Lima was abusing her power in the Senate by turning the Senate hearing into a witch-hunt and focusing on Duterte’s alleged role in the vigilante group the Davao Death Squad while he was still City Mayor there.
The focus of the Senate hearing then was supposed to be on the alleged extra-judicial killings (EJKs) relating to the government’s war on drugs, but De Lima took the opportunity to lambast Duterte in front of the media. That did not sit well with the other senators because De Lima came across like she simply had an axe to grind for her failure to prosecute Duterte when she was the Department of Justice Secretary under the Aquino government and even earlier when she was still the head of the Human Rights Commission during the Arroyo government.
Power’s write-up was disturbing because it was obvious that she only based its message on one side of the story – De Lima’s side. Power wanted to paint a picture of a lawless Philippines under Duterte. She mentioned “some 7000 people were killed” in the drug war as if all these deaths were government-sanctioned. She wanted De Lima to look like a political prisoner whose only crime was to criticise Duterte. Power does not have respect for the members of Philippine criminal justice system, which includes the law enforcement agencies and the court judges who work on De Lima’s prosecution.
Power is not only showing her ignorance of Philippine politics, she is also showing her superiority complex. She probably thinks that only the Western system of delivering “justice” is acceptable. To be fair, Filipino politicians have a track record of persecuting those not allied with them when they are in power. Even former allies get thrown under the bus as soon as they fall out of favour. This was very evident during former President Benigno Simeon Aquino’s term. As a matter of fact, De Lima played a big role in detaining Aquino’s political enemy former President Gloria Arroyo for five years even when she was sick. Power should have asked celebrity and international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney about the time De Lima denied Arroyo her right to travel and her right to presumption of innocence back in 2011. I wrote about it several times in the past. It’s still worth highlighting now:
De Lima’s initial violation back then was in defying the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the travel ban against Arroyo. De Lima even risked disbarment for ignoring the highest court’s order. Senator Miriam Santiago likewise questioned De Lima’s action citing the DOJ had no legal basis to issue a watch-list order against Arroyo since there was no pending case against the former President and was only a respondent in a joint DOJ Comelec investigation on electoral fraud at that time.
Santiago said the DOJ had “no legal basis” to issue watch-list orders based on the memorandum circular.
She rejected the argument that Arroyo’s constitutional right to travel could be suppressed as a matter of “national interest.” She noted that a person could be barred from traveling based only on three exceptions: national security, public safety or public health.
“It is a very serious and grave mistake to think that national security, public safety and public health can be interchanged with national interest,” she said. “We are putting words in the mouth of the Constitution, that is why the Supreme Court ruling is correct.”
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima acted like the President’s thug in preventing Arroyo’s departure.
It was apparent then that De Lima was acting on orders from President BS Aquino. He even cut short his overseas trip when he found out Arroyo was about to leave the country. De Lima acted like the President’s thug and seemingly obeyed his orders to do anything – even break the law and deny basic human rights – just to prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.
TIME Magazine’s editor Nancy Gibbs also wrote a very brief comment about De Lima, which likewise showed her ignorance on Philippine issues and her own bias about human rights:
Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte and his nemesis Senator Leila de Lima, whose denunciation of Duterte’s bloody crusade against drug dealers has landed her in prison.
Both Gibbs and Power’s credibility are in question now since it is obvious they did not bother to check the facts about De Lima’s incarceration.
The TIME editor’s agenda in choosing Duterte’s critic former Colombian President César Gaviria to do the Philippine President’s write-up is also questionable. They apparently wanted someone who did not have anything good to say about Duterte. Just because Gaviria failed in his own drug war in Columbia doesn’t mean those who take a tough stance on illegal drugs elsewhere will fail too. Gaviria doesn’t seem to want Duterte to stop drug lords from plying their trade. He wants Duterte to focus on treating addicts instead.
There are many ways to address the drug problem, but the Philippines being a poor country, cannot afford to spend public funds on treating all drug addicts like celebrities. Sometimes prevention is cheaper than the cure, which is why a lot of Filipinos agree with Duterte that removing the source of the drugs will solve the drug scourge a lot quicker. In a Third World country like the Philippines, drug addicts will have to go cold turkey once the source of their recreational drug is gone. No luxury rehab centres for drifters, unfortunately.
Gaviria cannot really compare the Philippine drug problem to Colombia’s drug problem. Colombia was once one of the world’s top producers of cocaine. The U.S. government was even involved in trying to beat the drug cartels. The problem in Colombia was bigger than the Philippines. Gaviria should have at least commended Duterte for addressing the Philippine drug problem before the country became a Narco state like Colombia. This was something the previous Aquino government failed to do.
TIME’s write-up about Duterte is unfavourable, indeed. They ranked him right up there with strongmen who did nothing for their people but bring misery. After almost a year in office, Duterte’s popularity is still strong. That’s proof that Filipinos are not exactly living in a lawless and hopeless state the way some of these bleeding heart liberals from TIME and the UN want the rest of the world to think.
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