House minority wants De Lima charged for plunder, bribery, drugs

Mara Cepeda

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House minority wants De Lima charged for plunder, bribery, drugs
The House minority says the justice committee put weeks of hearings 'to waste' when it did not recommend prosecuting Senator Leila de Lima despite the witnesses' testimonies against her

MANILA, Philippines – The House minority bloc disagrees with the justice committee’s report that pointed out Senator Leila de Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), but did not recommend charges against her.

“Unfortunately, the Committee on Justice, in Committee Report Number 14, missed the opportunity to discharge the Congressional sense of public accountability in the case of a public official embroiled in the drug trafficking scandal at the National Penitentiary – Senator Leila de Lima – when it failed to recommend prosecution for her grave misdeeds in the discharge of her functions as Secretary of Justice,” said the 18-member minority in their dissenting opinion, a draft of which was released on Thursday, October 27.

The minority lawmakers believe De Lima should face charges for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez held a press conference on the same day to discuss the document’s highlights. The minority is expected to finalize its dissenting opinion by November 7.

After conducting 4 hearings, the justice panel concluded that “sufficient evidence” point to De Lima’s involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the NBP. (READ: House panel wants to reimpose death penalty for drug cases)

The committee, however, fell short of recommending charges to be filed against the former Department of Justice (DOJ) chief. Instead, lawmakers only “encouraged” the DOJ to conduct an “in-depth” investigation into De Lima’s supposed role in the spread of drugs inside the national penitentiary. (READ: Why anomalies happen in Bilibid)

Committee chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali previously said the panel has no business recommending the prosecution of any individuals. (READ: Lawmakers question Umali over stand on De Lima prosecution)

But for the minority led by Quezon 3rd District Representative Danilo Suarez, such a recommendation is “consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances in government.”

The lawmakers cited Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which allows both houses of Congress and any of their committees to conduct “inquiries in aid of legislation.”

“Exercised properly as a symbolic expression of the sense of the people’s exasperation over official misconduct, it can be a tool of good governance, consistent with the constitutional principle that a public office is a public trust,” said the minority.

They argued that the panel’s failure to recommend De Lima’s prosecution – even after multiple witnesses pinned the senator in their testimonies – is “essentially putting weeks of hearings to waste.”

De Lima 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.

She supposedly had illicit 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.

De Lima, however, belittled the House probe until the end, saying the justice committee’s report is a “sham conclusion” to a congressional inquiry she earlier also called a “sham probe.” 

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption already filed a drug trafficking complaint against De Lima and 7 others ahead of the House justice committee’s submission of its committee report. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.