By Ben R. Rosario
Notwithstanding a non-bailable case, embattled Sen. Leila de Lima’s membership in the Senate and in the Philippine bar is in serious jeopardy as complaints against her may no longer be withdrawn.
This was gathered yesterday as Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez disclosed that he will confront Biñan City Rep. Len Alonte Naguiat on Monday to get her side on accusations that she is involved in a P100-million bribery attempt for witnesses in the drug case filed against De Lima.
Deputy Speaker Fred Castro said the likelihood that the House leadership will withdraw the ethics complaint it filed against the detained senator is “nil.”
On the other hand, anti-crime crusader Arsenio Evangelista of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) said the Supreme Court disbarment petition they filed against De Lima should have its “fitting and justified conclusion.”
“With the majority of House members in full support of the President, the withdrawal of both disbarment and ethics complaints will be next to impossible. The present sentiment is to let justice roll,” stated Deputy Minority Leader and ABS Party-list Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera.
If found guilty, De Lima may be expelled as senator and lawyer, House leaders said.
Castro explained that the Senate Ethics Committee has already acquired jurisdiction over the case and is set to determine her culpability to accusations that she blocked the holding of a House inquiry into the multi-billion peso drug operations in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Three other ethics complaints have reportedly been filed against the senator, one of which was filed recently by opposition Rep. Harry Roque of Kabayan Partylist.
“The whole House of Representatives, not only just one congressman, is the aggrieved party in this case. Whether or not we have a strong case against her, the proceedings have to continue for the sake of parliamentary courtesy, good governance, and the truth,” explained Castro.
Himself a San Beda College of Law graduate like De Lima, the House deputy speaker stressed that bipartisan support exists in the House leadership’s decision to file ethics charges against her.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas has accused De Lima of abusing “inter-chamber courtesy accorded her” by the Lower House and stood in the way of a congressional investigation into the NBP drug trade when she advised former driver-lover Ronnie Dayan to ignore summonses for his appearance in the House hearings conducted last year by the Committee on Justice.
Dayan is De Lima’s co-accused in the drug charges. He is currently detained at the Muntinlupa City Police Detention Cell and is doing fine.
Testimonies of witnesses who attended the House hearings triggered the filing of drug charges that caused De Lima’s arrest and detention.
Evangelista stressed that in its 18 years of existence, the VACC has never withdrawn any graft or cases arising from immoral activities of government men.
“Our commitment is to help ensure honest and graft-free governance. I do not think De Lima’s current situation can convince any VACC member to give up the Supreme Court petition. As a public official, a high ranking official, the senator should be responsible for her actions,” the VACC officer said.
The VACC has sought De Lima’s name stricken off the roll of attorneys for her alleged romantic involvement with Dayan, a married man.
Alvarez described as “very serious” the allegations that Naguiat had offered money to high-profile prisoners of the NBP who have agreed to testify in court against De Lima.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II claimed that the Laguna lawmaker, together with former Senator Jamby Madrigal, dangled a P100-million bribe offer in exchange of recantation of witnesses who executed damaging statements of De Lima’s alleged involvement in the NBP drug traffic operations during her term as justice secretary. Both Naguiat and Madrigal have denied the allegations.
“Na-involved siya doon sa bribery. Medyo seryoso ito, kaya kailangan malaman natin kung ano ang puno’t dulo nito (She got involved in bribery. This is quite serious, we have to look into this),” said Alvarez in a radio interview.
Aside from these problems confronting De Lima, Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said the legal team of the detained lawmaker will lose if it continues to argue that the Muntinlupa regional trial court (RTC) has no jurisdiction over the drug-related cases slapped against the lady senator.
“Palagay ko matatalo sila for their legal argument has no basis in law,’’ Lacson, chairman of the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee, told DWIZ in an interview yesterday afternoon.
Legal defenders of De Lima, particularly Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party (LP), maintained that the law mandates that the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan have jurisdiction over government officials and employees on cases in relation to their office.
As this developed, leading European liberal politicians denounced the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima over drug-related charges which they said are “politically motivated.”
They vowed to seek action from the European Union (EU), especially as they expressed deep concern that President Duterte is turning the Philippines into an “illiberal state.”
A statement from the Liberal International (LI), the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic political parties, said prominent European parliamentarian Hans van Baalen MEP would raise the issue to the attention of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini.
The statement was released to media by the office of Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party (LP), which is a full member of the LI.
“The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Europe (ALDE) Party is deeply concerned about the arrest of the Liberal Party Senator Leila de Lima in particular and the deteriorating human rights situation in general,” the statement quoted Baalen.
“The Philippines, under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, is turning rapidly into an illiberal state, where there is no respect for the law, whatsoever. I have asked written questions to HRVP Mogherini in order to see what action the EU can take,” he added.
Baalen, who is LI’s president of Honor, is also ALDE president.
Markus Löning, chair of the LI human rights committee and Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights from 2010 to 2014, said liberals all over the world are ready to stand up for De Lima’s immediate release.
He called on Duterte to respect and defend the laws of the country and human rights.
“The President of the Philippines must respect and defend the laws of his country and human rights. That is his obligation toward his own people. Liberals across the world will stand up for Leila de Lima’s immediate release,” he said.
Get to know De Lima more
While European liberal leaders defend De Lima, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Deputy Director Ruel Lasala has advised the Catholic Church to take a pause and get to know De Lima better before giving her support.
“Itong sa amin panawagan sana sa kaparian at tsaka sa Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), ako Katoliko ako, na sana kapag ganyang sitwasyon, pag-aralan muna nila yung tunay na pagkatao ng sinusuporthan nila (We appeal to the priests and CBCP to learn about the person they are supporting),” said Lasala, who is a Catholic himself.
Church leaders have criticized the arrest of De Lima as part of the move of President Duterte to silence one of his most vocal critics.
Even before Duterte started accusing De Lima of her illegal drug links at the NBP, Lasala explained that he and former NBI Deputy Director Reynaldo Esmeralda got tipped about her involvement way back in the first quarter of 2013 from NBI agent Jun Ablen.
Lasala and Esmeralda are among those who filed criminal complaints before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against De Lima. (With reports from Elena L. Aben, Mario B. Casayuran, Jeffrey G. Damicog, and Jonathan M. Hicap)