By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent

Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima warned against some popular senatorial candidates she called “Trojan horses” who might undermine the country’s democracy and freedom if elected in the coming May elections.

“Trojan horses could make their way into the Senate, unless we do something about it. They will destroy the remaining shred of independence of that institution,” she said, without naming names among the long list of senatorial candidates.

“We cannot fight this battle alone,” she added, mindful that nation-building entails reaching out to others no matter how the notion seems unlikely.

A staunch defender of human rights and social justice, De Lima claimed she is politically persecuted for being a fierce critic of the Duterte administration’s crooked policies.

With the senatorial elections in May 2019 on her mind, De Lima said the country’s democracy is under siege as she underscored the need to elect national leaders who can truly protect people’s rights and liberties against attacks in some quarters.

“Give them a chance. They might surprise you. For as long as there is a chance they might be persuaded to uphold the independence of the Senate — and by that, I mean vote for Otso Diretso—reach out to them.”

Recalling her arrest on 24 February 2017, the lady senator from Bicol shared how she bid farewell to her staff in the Senate who were “fighting back tears” when she said to them that she is not sure how long her ordeal will last.

“Sana, a few years lang,” is what she revealed to have been her thought at that time but did not say out loud because she didn’t want her staff to think that she was afraid of long detention.

“I did not want to leave them with fear in their hearts. I wanted to be strong for them,” she added.

She hoped for relief through a favorable decision on her case by the Supreme Court but it did not come. “How many more years shall I endure?

Nobody knows,” she said, saying the last two years have shown that the judiciary is not immune to political pressures and that the “state of our justice system hardly inspires confidence.”

But De Lima said there had been minor victories along the way, citing last February 23’s hearing in Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 when the Prosecution presented its first witness, former Police Director Benjamin Magalong, who, she said, “did not lie, could not lie and would not want to lie.”

De Lima shared that when the former chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) was cross-examined, he was asked by her defense lawyer: “In all your years of gathering information, whether in your professional or personal capacity, did you ever hear anything at all on the alleged involvement of the accused Senator de Lima in illegal drugs?”

To which, Magalong replied, “None. Negative.” He also said, “I had no integrity issues,” to the applause of De Lima’s guests.

However, the Senator is not as confident that the other witnesses, including the convicts detained at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) who were illegally admitted as state witnesses in violation of the expressed provisions under the Witness Protection Program (WPP), would be capable of telling the truth.

Referring to judges who have been assigned to her cases but later inhibited or opted for early retirement, De Lima said: “Nobody wanted to touch the cases at first, and I don’t blame them. They know that they will be damned if they do justice, and damned if they don’t. They know what is at stake. If they do justice to me, they would offend the powers that be. If they do right, they would incur the Duterte wrath.”

De Lima then asked herself a “simpler” question instead, whether she could forgive those who have wronged her.

“Even though they do not ask for my forgiveness, the truth is, I have long forgiven them those who were just used as pawns against me. But they’re not the real enemies,” she said.

De Lima said that Duterte may be “the most blatantly and vocally vicious” against her, but he is just one of her “powerful enemies”.

“In time, I can find it in my heart to forgive but I will never forget because to forget is to surrender my humanity,” she added.

De Lima said that all throughout history there have been days of infamy that should not be forgotten for the sake of the victims of injustice, and in order to remember lessons from the past.

“Do not forget that there is one Leila de Lima who became a victim of persecution and injustice. And that is what I ask of you. Never forget.

Remember the 24th day of February. “That is the day when the truth, justice, rule of law and democracy were put to test. We still have not lost.

The battle continues,” the Senator said, stressing that Filipinos have the chance to uphold justice and democracy in the elections two months from now.