MANILA, Philippines – The head of the House committee on justice came under fire from two lawmakers on Monday, October 17, who questioned his position that they have no business recommending the prosecution of individuals in their committee report.
Committee chairperson Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali said in a radio interview on Sunday, October 16, that the final report on the probe into the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) would focus on proposing amendments to laws and not on the filing of charges against anyone.
Senator Leila de Lima was the subject of controversial allegations made during the House probe by witnesses, including convicts, presented to the committee by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
As the Umali-led committee opened the committee meeting on Monday to tackle the draft report, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Quezon City 1st District Representative Vincent Crisologo asked him about his DZBB interview which was carried by newspapers.
“I read one of the broadsheets today. I would just like to have a clarification from the chair that on that statement that there was no evidence against De Lima [to be included in the report]?” Suarez asked Umali.
Umali, former party mate of De Lima in the Liberal Party, denied saying this. “I don’t know about whoever wrote… and definitely it did not come from me. I did not utter those words. I did not give statement to any media on that particular point. Probably, that is a spin on some of the members of the media and or probably that is their way of sowing intrigue on the House of Representatives.”
Umali, who is now part of the ruling coalition of President Rodrigo Duterte, reiterated his stand that prosecution is “not [the] job” of the House. “That is not our job. Prosecution is an executive function, not a congressional function… That is not our role. Our role is to legislate,” said Umali.
Crisologo asked: Do House rules bar the committee from recommending the filing of cases against De Lima?
Umali replied: “I guess it can be done, but as you very well know, charges have already been filed. So what is there to recommend?”
The lawmaker was referring to the drug trafficking complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption against De Lima and 7 others for allegedly “conspiring” to allow the illegal drug trade at the NBP.
Umali explained later in a press conference that recommending prosecution “is already a state issue,” apparently referring to the executive branch.
The committee finished the first draft of its report on Monday, but decided against releasing it to the media.
“We are not yet ready to share this with the public,” Umali said at the start of the panel meeting.
Members of the committee have yet to read the draft report in full as of Monday morning. They agreed to hold a closed-door session to discuss and debate the contents of the draft.
“What is included in the report is what we have established by way of acccountability and involvement and that is what we’re discussing in the executive session,” Umali explained.
The committee is aiming at having the plenary approve the report before the House goes on a break on Friday, October 22. Session resumes on November 7.
Umali described it as the “most expeditious” House investigation, a “shining moment” for the chamber.
The Department of Justice presented a total of 22 witnesses, most of whom were high-level convicts who were granted immunity by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Star witness and influential NBP gang leader Jaybee Sebastian said that Chinese inmates run the drug trade inside the national penitentiary, with earnings from the prison drug trade reaching as much as P100 million a day.
But most of witnesses’ testimonies centered on De Lima, who has been accused of coddling drug lords and accepting millions of drug money from within and outside the NBP to allegedly fund her 2016 senatorial campaign. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)
Lawmakers also grilled witnesses who claimed that De Lima supposedly had illicit love affairs with two of her former aides – her ex-bodyguard and driver Ronnie Dayan as well as her former security aide Joenel Sanchez – who allegedly became her bagmen, too. (READ: Which is which? Sanchez, Sebastian’s conflicting claims)
An arrest warrant has already been issued against Dayan after failing to appear before congressmen despite a subpoena from the justice committee. The panel plans to hold another hearing should he be arrested. – Rappler.com