Personal grudge in De Lima ouster? Senators deny it

Majority of those who voted against Senator De Lima are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte while some had differences with De Lima on various issues

NOTHING PERSONAL. Senators who voted against neophyte Senator Leila De Lima say they have nothing personal against De Lima, even as the latter implicated them in issues before. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Did personal issues against former justice secretary and neophyte Senator Leila De Lima play a role in her ouster?

With an overwhelming of vote of 16-4, with two absentions, senators removed De Lima as chairperson of the committee on justice and human rights, in what  opposition lawmakers called an “unprecedented” event. (READ: Senators: De Lima ousted for being ‘biased,’ anti-Duterte)

Most of the 16 senators who voted against the lady senator are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte while others were implicated by De Lima or her allies in the Liberal Party in various issues during the Aquino administration.

Case in point: Senator Joel Villanueva, who ran with De Lima in the May 2016 polls under the LP banner. It came as a surprise to some that Villanueva voted against a considered ally. (READ: Why Joel Villanueva is not keen on joining LP Senate ticket)

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the two, who both served under former president Benigno Aquino III – Villanueva as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief and De Lima as justice secretary.

In 2015, the DOJ under De Lima charged Villanueva with malversation of public funds, direct bribery, and graft and corruption before the Ombudsman. Villanueva allegedly received P2.3 million in kickbacks from alleged porkbarrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

The DOJ filed a complaint even after the National Bureau of Investigation cleared Villanueva as his signature in the questionable document was supposedly forged.

Asked if this was a factor to his vote, Villanueva told Rappler there is nothing personal in his decision. It was only for the good of the Senate.

“No definitely, nothing personal. It’s about our work here in the senate, protecting the right of every senator, the institution,” Villanueva said.

He said De Lima, as a newbie, has no “capacity and competency” to handle a big panel like the justice committee. For him, a more senior senator would be a better fit for the job.

Yellow allies?

As for his “yellow” or LP ties, Villanueva said he only ran under the party but he maintained he was never part of it.

In fact, he said, he is still the president and chairman of CIBAC party list. Villanueva, a close friend of Aquino, still somehow benefitted from the machinery of the then ruling party in the 2016 polls.

“If I voted for them, sasabihin tuta ako ng dilaw. Pagka I did what I did, ‘ayan na nga y’ung nangyari, tuta naman ako ng kabila. Alam ko na ito e. What am I supposed to do? I would stick wih my core values. ‘Yung pagiging LP is just again part of a coalition,” Villanueva said.

(If I voted for them, they’ll say I’m a yellow lapdog. If I did what I had done, like now, they would say I’m the puppet of the other group. I know this already. What am I supposed to do? I would stick with my core values. My being with LP is just again part of a coalition.)

Villanueva said even the LP members in the Senate do not seem inclined to consider him part of the LP bloc,  citing the supposed party decision on the Senate presidency and on whether or not the party would remain with the majority after De Lima’s ouster.

Another senator who ran with De Lima under the LP banner is Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson and De Lima had a bitter past. Then justice secretary De Lima launched a manhunt against the former for being implicated in the murder of publicist Salvador Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito.

Lacson called it one of the most trying times of his life. Despite this, he said he did not vote against De Lima out of personal vendetta.

“Not at all. I am not a vindictive person. I based my vote solely on my judgment of how she presided the hearings. I thought she was wanting in objectivity and fairness,” Lacson told Rappler.

Lacson earlier said the evidence presented against De Lima in the House probe into the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison is strong.

At the same time, he said he is “inclined” to move that the ethics complaint filed against De Lima be dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction.

Pork barrel

Aside from Villanueva, Senator Gregorio Honasan was also implicated in the pork barrel scam. The DOJ also filed a complaint against him before the Ombudsman for allegedly receiving P1.75 million in kickbacks from Napoles.

Honasan said there was no personal reason for his vote against De Lima, even as he admitted that he and his family were affected by the controversy over such a small amount.

“The information was transferred to the Ombudsman where it is now, for an amount that I could have passed the hat around with. Even if I was affected and my family, I’m a senator of the Republic, I do not make judgment calls based on personal considerations,” Honasan told Rappler.

“I refrain from casting vote, deciding based on what I have been through,” Honasan added.

The senator said he chose to remain silent on the issues involving De Lima and the chamber, as he supposedly does not want to use the media to try someone publicly.

He knows how it feels, Honasan said, as he experienced it himself. The senator added he is only after “due process.”

“No, that’s why I choose to remain silent most of the time. I just subscribe to due process and the rule of law, not using media as a mechanism for making our courts irrelevant. I have been on the receiving end. Trial by publicity,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who was also implicated in the pork barrel scam, maintained he did not vote against the lady senator because of it.

Sotto claimed he even forgot about the issue. Aside from him, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senators Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano – who all voted to oust De Lima – were also included in the “pork” list submitted by then justice chief De Lima to the Senate blue ribbon committee. They have all denied misusing their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“Not at all, in fact, I have complete forgotten about that. Sakin walang problema (No problem with me),” he said.

Binay probe

Senator Nancy Binay is among the 16 who voted against De Lima. In 2014, at the height of the corruption issues against then Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family, the DOJ launched a parallel probe against them.

But for Senator Binay, the pressures from De Lima then did not matter in her recent decision. For her, it’s all in the past. One of the reasons why she voted against De Lima, she said, was for the chamber to stop using Senate investigations for political purposes. (READ: Binay feels ‘vindicated’ after Cayetano hits ‘bias’ in Senate probe)

“Wala, kasi di ba parang walang ganoong issue sa ‘kin. Kumbaga tapos na ‘yun. Dapat pagtuunan ng pansin paano makakatulong sa kababayan. Siguro since tapos na ‘yung ganitong issue, magmove on naman tayo sa bagay na talagang ma-address ‘yung mga problema,” she said.

(None, because there’s no issue for me. In short, that’s already over. The focus should now be on how to help our fellowmen. Maybe since this issue is already finished, we should move on to more important things that can address problems.)

The controversy is widely believed to have damaged the former vice president’s image. Together with the Senate inquiry into the alleged overpriced Makati City Building II, voters’ preference for the elder Binay as a presidential contender dropped.

The former vice president was a rival of former presidential candidate Mar Roxas, De Lima’s close ally in the LP. – Rappler.com