Courage, sense of humor, visitors keep De Lima upbeat, says Fr. Reyes

Fr. Robert Reyes

“Running Priest” Fr. Robert Reyes visits Sen. Leila de Lima at her cell at the PNP Custodial Center. (Photo by JULLIANE LOVE DE JESUS/

There is no air-conditioning, just a stand fan. There is no refrigerator, but there’s an icebox. A manual dispenser pours warm and warmer water.

These are the only amenities that Sen. Leila de Lima enjoys in her detention cell, a tiny room with practically no ventilation, and crammed with a small bed and a table, according to her spiritual adviser, Fr. Robert Reyes.

De Lima has been detained for the past two weeks on three charges of drug trafficking at the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary under then President Benigno Aquino III.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who did not hide his contempt for De Lima, made the allegations himself at the start of his presidency.

De Lima has said that this was the President’s way of getting back at her for linking him to the so-called Davao Death Squad that killed hundreds of suspected criminals when he was Davao City mayor, and to the extrajudicial killings in his administration’s campaign against illegal drugs that has so far left more than 8,000 dead.

Reyes has regularly visited De Lima since she was detained on Feb. 24. He has said several Masses attended by her family and visitors.

He said it was De Lima’s “courage and sense of humor” that get her through each day.

Despite her detention, the senator “smiles a lot” and is genuinely happy to welcome visitors, Reyes said.

“Leila now is really isolated. That is quite a challenge for a social animal like her who is very friendly,” Reyes said.

When her visitors come to lift De Lima’s spirits, they leave inspired by her. Reyes said that during his Masses, the small congregation would share their thoughts with De Lima and “they were in tears.”

“They know this is an innocent person suffering unjustly,” Reyes said.

Reyes said a spiritual renewal often took place inside prison. He and De Lima have agreed to “frame” her detention in the context of the Lenten season in the Catholic faith.

“She is prepared for the long haul, but she is also hoping for a miracle. Our time frame is 40 days of Lent, 40 days of confinement. Every day, she reads the proposed readings for the day of Lent and the reflections to enter more deeply into the spirit of Lent,” Reyes said.

One time De Lima asked him to bless her detention area.

It was something that struck the priest because he himself did not even think of blessing his own cell in Camp Crame where he was detained for 16 days with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, retired Gen. Danilo Lim, and junior officers belonging to the Magdalo group in 2007 following their arrest for the Manila Peninsula siege.

Reyes described De Lima, a 57-year-old mother and grandmother, as “one tough cookie.” It will take a lot to break her, he said.

De Lima sees her detention as an opportunity, not a setback, in her fight to defend human rights, he said.

She has also been catching up on sleep, going to bed early and rising at 5 a.m. to exercise by walking around the small courtyard outside her cell.

She is actually thankful that she now has time to read, Reyes said.

Her visitors have been bringing her books, aside from food. Former President Aquino brought her chocolates and a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a 1,000 plus-page book.

De Lima also keeps a daily journal. “Being the reflective person that she is, I think she will have a good collection of life lessons to share with everyone else once she is out of confinement,” Reyes said.

The most important thing, he said, is De Lima “connecting with her family in a very unique and personal way.”

Aside from the senator’s staff, her siblings, in-laws, and relatives visit her every day. They keep her company and also help entertain her visitors.

De Lima’s mother who is 84, however, does not know her daughter is under detention. Whenever her mother asks for her, she is told that the senator is out of the country.

Reyes said he had told the senator to focus on herself throughout her detention, to deepen her life in prayer and strengthen her body and mind because she would continue to play an important role in the lives of the Filipino people.

“I’ve told her that whatever battles she faces in the future would require not only the usual feisty and courageous De Lima, but also a physically strong, mentally and psychologically focused Leila,” Reyes said.

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