A Different Kind of Love

‘What has sustained Senator Leila de Lima and activist Myles Albasin in detention is the love of their families and friends, different from the romantic relationships we celebrate on Valentine’s Day but probably more fruitful’

On this Valentine’s Day, in the midst of a pandemic, I pay tribute to Leila de Lima and Myles Albasin, both political prisoners of the Duterte regime. This is also a love letter to their families and friends who have supported and suffered with them as they are persecuted unjustly, Leila for 4 years this February and Myles 3 years and counting from this March.

Leila and Myles are two women of substance: belonging to two different generations, Leila being in her early 60s and Myles just entering her mid-20s; one from Bicol, the other from Mindanao; one a senator and lawyer, the other a student and youth activist who will be a lawyer and maybe even a senator one day; both my clients (although I am more of a legal adviser and not a courtroom lawyer for them) and more importantly their friends.

Leila, mother, daughter, and sister

Senator Leila is the eldest of 4 children, the eldest daughter of former Comelec Commissioner Vicente de Lima, a career election official who rose to the top and was known for his bedrock integrity and exemplary competence. Her mother is Norma Magistrado, still living at 88 years old but frail and sick in Iriga City. Since the senator was arrested on February 24, 2017, she has seen her mother only thrice, the last time in August 2019 when she was given a furlough to visit the latter in an Iriga hospital. Leila’s worst fear is that she won’t get to see her mother again.

Leila has 3 siblings: Nonoy, a doctor; Caroline, a nurse; and VicBoy, a corporate manager. Recently, VicBoy’s wife Marianne passed away due to cancer. Before she died, Senator Leila had asked permission to visit her in-law, to whom she was very close, but this was cruelly and sadly denied.

Senator Leila has two sons. The eldest, Israel (who will be 39 this year), is a child with autism. He’s very artistically inclined, and is his mom’s happy child. Her younger son is Vincent, named after Senator Leila’s father, is a young lawyer. He passed the Bar in 2018 juggling law school with building a young family.

In addition to her family, Leila loves dogs and owned several of them. She had to give them away when she was arrested so she could be taken care of. She has also grown a great affection for the stray cats that visit her at the custodial center in Camp Crame where is detained.

Recently Senator Leila, whose faith is deep and profound, sent a letter to bishops to ask for their prayers. In the copy shown to me by a recipient, she declares: “Our people need their shepherd to uphold the dignity of God’s Creation. I may have scratches and dents, but by God’s grace, I am not broken. If anything, it has left me fearless of further attempts to break me, for I have seen how Faith and Service heals anything and everything. But I have seen enough to know that no one can bring true and lasting change working alone.”

Myles, the daughter and sister

Myles Albasin is a young woman from my hometown Cagayan de Oro and like me a graduate of Xavier University High School. For college, she went to Cebu City and studied in University of the Philippines Cebu, graduating in 2017 with a degree on mass communications. In March 2018, while doing research in Negros Island pending her entry to law school at Ateneo de Davao, she was arrested with 5 others. They are known as the Mabinay 6.

Myles’ only fault is her empathy for the poor and her fidelity to the Atenean ideal of being a person for others and to UP’s demand for honor and excellence from its students and graduates. She is definitely not a terrorist. Anyone who knows and have seen Myles would find it absurd to learn that she has been accused of carrying a gun and explosives, typical charges leveled on activists so that they cannot be released on bail.

When Myles was first arrested, Grace shared that her daughter was already molded in high school to become a person for others. According to Grace, in a press conference reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “Immersions are nothing new for Myles. She grew up with a lot of questions like why are there beggars on the streets? Why are there poor people? No one taught her what radicalism is. There actually was no need to teach her about that. She experienced for herself what is going on in daily life.”

Grace also described her daughter as a typical millennial: “Her music is so millennial. As parents, we only guide our children. We don’t own them. They came through us, but not from us. They will really follow their dreams…We are only guides. Whatever she believes in life, then that’s it. She has her own life.”

More recently, in an open letter to Secretary Delfin Lorenzana published in Rappler, Grace wrote: “We are parents who dream of a land free from oppression, of a society that upholds equality, and of a rule of law for the people and not for a privileged few. We raised our children to explore and ask and make up their minds. We sent them to schools we knew would open their minds and give them the tools to scrutinize the world and seek to make it better. Because of this, we respect their life choices.”

Myles’ mother was reacting to reports that Lorenzana had included the name of her daughter as a UP graduate who had joined the New People’s Army and who has been killed. This is of course not true. Myles is alive and as determined ever even in the face of a lot of pressure for her to become admit guilt and surrender so charges can be dropped against her. I have assured her that she does not have to do this as justice eventually prevails, even if it sometimes is delayed. We certainly hope she will be released on bail and can begin her law studies soon.

While it is Myles’ mother, a journalist by background, that does most of the talking of the family, I have personally seen how her father Lloyd and only sibling Marley are as devoted and supportive of Myles as Grace.

Love will win

Next week, we will know if the judges in the case of Leila would grant her motions for demurrer premised on the lack and weakness of evidence presented her by the prosecution. Soon, we hope, the judge in Myles’ case, someone I personally trust as doing things by the book, will make a decision on her bail petition.

Senator Leila de Lima have spent nearly 1,500 days in jail. Myles Albasin has now been detained for more than a thousand days. What has sustained them is the love of their families and friends, different from the romantic relationships we celebrate on Valentine’s Day but probably more fruitful. It is a love will carry them through until justice is done.

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