Since the start of her incarceration, my husband and I have been visiting Sen. Leila de Lima at least once a month. I don’t know if that makes us regular visitors. Anyway, we’ve more or less adjusted to the ever tightening requirements for us visitors.
In all these three years, we had never been denied entry—until Nov. 17. It has happened to other people oftener or always, but I never thought it would to our benign group.
That Sunday, we came with our clearance hanging in the air, chancing it. The last time around, we got it on our way, on the road, to Crame, shortly before the 10 a.m. Mass we all hope always to catch. Understandably, those coming from the provinces had postponed and looked forward to a next time.
We pushed off early. From home in Makati, we were picking up three friends along the way, giving them more time to process our clearance and ourselves to feed our hope and sense of mutual consolation as a hardy, optimistic group: By the time we arrived at the gate of the custodial center, it would be there—our clearance.
Alas, it never came. Only family members were allowed in. The reason given us nonfamily was that the person who needed “to sign” our clearance was not available. It didn’t help that we had submitted our applications, together with government IDs (these used to be demanded right there, during the personal, physical processing) two weeks before the visit—a week used to be all it had taken.
My guess is they must be bothered by the growing international protest against the detention of Senator De Lima—some American senators have demanded her immediate and unconditional release and those directly involved in her persecution are said to have been denied, or were facing denial or cancellation of, US visas; the foreign press, meanwhile, harps on. Surely, Filipino friends and supporters visiting Leila do not qualify as any comparably dangerous reaction.
On that day, instead of celebrating the Sunday Mass for Leila as he regularly does, Fr. Robert Reyes, the parish priest of the Parokya ni Leila and one of her spiritual advisers, became the deliverer of our little gifts of food and books for her and her own little notes of thank-you to us. Pareng Bert Alejo said the Mass.
There happened to be three visiting artists who came to sketch her, since she is seldom seen by the public, except when taken to court heavily escorted as though she were the most dangerous criminal in custody. It was a great idea: her old pictures no longer do her justice.
She has lost weight. Her sugar levels have come under control with exercise, diet and a healthy attitude. I brought what I thought was a deserved dessert—butter cake.
She is, in fact, looking younger, prettier. Her resolve to get through this seems even stronger. She’s determined to come out a better, more inspired, fitter leader for the coming years of freedom.
Leila was, of course, furious upon learning of our fate, shut out of the detention center. We stayed out, still hoping. A sort of shed with tables and chairs just across from the center provided a cool, shady refuge—actually cooler than inside.
Leila sent us food; she always prepares for her guests—a Chinese lauriat of pata tim, fried chicken, steamed fish, pancit canton, lumpia shanghai and, for dessert, buchi sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. She also sent us cold water, soft drinks and juice.
The three stayed, too. They sketched us instead. Their interpretation of us, despite looking faithful to ourselves, made us look 20 years younger. My husband, Vergel, however, whose talent for caricature has considerably reduced our number of friends (only the truest hang on), quickly brought us back to reality or worse. But we did manage to laugh and enjoy ourselves.
Father Robert took their works to Leila, images of devoted friends separated from her in body but not in spirit. He reported back that Vergel’s caricatures surprised her and made her laugh at his cariño brutal caricatures.
We left not at all disheartened; on the contrary, our resolve further solidified, as we continue to add our voices to the mounting international and local clamor: Free Leila!