MANILA, Philippines – House justice committee chairman and Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali will not be withdrawing the disobedience case filed against detained Senator Leila de Lima, if only to restore respect to the House of Representatives.
“Yung proceedings namin naapektuhan, respeto sa House ay medyo naapektuhan at kung hindi namin gagawin ito ganito na rin gagawin ng ibang witnesses sa amin (Our proceedings were affected, the respect for the House was affected, so if we don’t do this, witnesses will just do the same to us,” Umali said on Friday, January 5.
Umali was cross-examined on Friday by De Lima’s lawyer at the Quezon City (QC) Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 34, which is handling the disobedience to summons case filed against the senator for supposedly discouraging Ronnie Dayan from attending a House hearing in October 2016.
Umali said the reputation of the House of Representatives was tarnished during their inquiries into De Lima’s alleged involvement in the Bilibid drug trade, aggravated somehow by Dayan initially skipping the hearing because of what he referred to as De Lima’s advice to him.
“Being called chair of the kangaroo committee is something personal to me…I was criticized because of questions in that hearing which were unwarranted,” Umali said on the witness stand, saying that the “disobedience” affected his handling of the hearings. (READ: 10 months since arrest, DOJ still amending case vs De Lima)
The “advice” of De Lima coursed through Dayan’s daughter Hannah Mae via a text message said, “Please tell him to go into hiding.” This was the basis of the complaint filed against her by Umali, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.
The complaint is for violation of Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes an individual who disobeys summons from authorities, or an individual who restrains a person from obeying summons from authorities.
Umali recalled that they had to ask the police to arrest Dayan, criticized by some as an overboard move on the part of the committee. All of these, Umali said, are factors that justify the filing of the case for disobedience to summons.
A similar complaint against Dayan is still pending with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Umali said that initially, Dayan was considered for the Witness Protection Program (WPP) but his violations scrapped the deal and that’s when they filed a similar case against him.
DOJ prosecutors present at the hearing on Friday could not definitively say where exactly Dayan’s case is at the prosecutorial stage. Dayan is detained like De Lima for the non-bailable charge of engaging in the drug trade.
De Lima said the case was purely harrassment, but Umali – her fraternity brother at San Beda – said all of this could have been avoided if the senator just apologized.
‘We cannot back out’
Umali said they will not withdraw.
“Hindi kami puwedeng umatras nang ganun lang (we cannot back out just like that) because we have an institution and a principle to protect,” Umali said.
During the cross-examination, De Lima’s lawyer Teddy Rigoroso tried to establish the fact that the filing of the complaint was done by Umali, Alvarez, and Fariñas in their personal capacities. The argument is De Lima could only disobey the summons of the House as a body, and not summons of individuals.
Umali admitted there is no written authority to file the case, though he said there was instruction from both Alvarez and Fariñas.
Rigoroso asked Umali why they did not file a similar case against Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, who also initially did not show up during a House probe into Ilocos’ tobacco funds.
Umali said he cannot answer for another committe. It was the committee on good government and public accountability which handled the Ilocos probe.
“We want to serve notice to the whole world that in my committee we will pursue the full force of the law…Principles were violated, the House was violated, and so if people should be held responsible then they should be,” Umali said.
The next hearing is on April 6. It is handled by Branch 34 Judge Ma. Ludmila De Pio Lim – Rappler.com
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