Human Rights
Reflection On The Value Of Personal Freedom

Atty. Leila De Lima

17 November 2023

I have not been able to sleep well since Monday. Maybe it’s the peculiar sense of unfamiliarity with once- familiar things. Even now when I am now back in the warm comforts of my childhood home. The bed sheets, once a comforting embrace, now feel foreign against my skin. The view beyond my bedroom window seems different, perhaps altered by the passage of time or the weight of my almost seven years of incarceration.

Yes, even breathing the cool, unconfined provincial air felt different. Maybe detention does that to you. As if the walls of isolation created their a cocoon of comfort and routine, that when you finally step out, freedom almost feels both exhilarating and disorienting. Maybe it’s the lingering memory of the solitary nights, the silent pleas for justice, and the oppressive weight of injustice that settled upon my chest.

The initial shock of my detention almost seven years ago left me grappling with the concept of personal freedom in a way I never had before. What does it really mean to be free when your physical freedom is taken away? Is it as our country’s national hero Jose Rizal said, “detenido pero no preso?” I refused to let my oppressors dictate the terms of my existence. I immersed myself into intellectual pursuits, I devoured books and policy papers, I worked and wrote a lot, constantly, incessantly, finding solace in the written word.

Atty. Leila De Lima 2

More than a gift from our Creator, freedom, indeed, is a hard-won battle. It is relentless battle waged not just in war zones, in courtrooms, in the streets, but also in the very depth of the human spirit. In the first months of my detention, the weight of isolation bore down upon me with an intensity that threatened to extinguish my resolve.

I will not romanticize my oppression with notions of martyrdom or glorification of suffering. The reality of being detained, kept away from your loved ones, and facing injustice was far from romantic. It was a struggle that tested my belief in the principles I held dear. It was raw, it was reality. Because really, the path toward freedom is not always one of unwavering determination at every turn. It is filled with moments of vulnerability and disbelief.

But it is in these very moments of vulnerability, you will find a wellspring of hope and strength in the courage of ordinary people that will inspire you to believe that vindication is near. And then you will learn, even if it is in the most soul-crushingly difficult way, that this is not about you anymore, it is no longer your story, and that it is possible to fight for yourself while never surrendering your commitment to fight for others.

Atty. Leila De Lima 3

For as the great Nelson Mandela has said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. For freedom is not personal. While it starts with individual aspirations based on our beliefs and desires, it extends beyond the individual to intertwine with the freedom of others.

The chains that bound my own freedom may have been removed but there are still thousands who remain in unjust detention, and we are all still shackled to systemic injustices. As long as there are still people suffering in silence, oppressed by systemic inequality and injustice, we can never be truly free. Thus, our collective struggle for truth and justice, and the right to live a life free and with dignity continues.

Atty. Leila De Lima 4