De Lima cites ‘lingering integrity issues’ vs sacked NBI officials
Secretary Leila de Lima says she is 'morally convinced' about the allegations against the sacked NBI deputy directors

RELIEVED. Deputy Director for Intelligence Service Reynaldo Esmeralda (left) and NBI Deputy Director for Special Investigation Services Ruel Lasala hold a press conference Friday, March 13 inside the NBI headquarters in Manila. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Friday, March 14, that she recommended the relief of two deputy directors of the National Bureau of Investigation because of  “lingering integrity issues” that would block reforms being pursued by the new leadership.

“There are…lingering integrity issues surrounding these two former deputy directors,” De Lima told reporters when asked about the relief of Deputy Director for Intelligence Service Reynaldo Esmeralda and NBI Deputy Director for Special Investigation Services Ruel Lasala.

She said she had thought about replacing the two as early as her second year in office, but whenever she confronted them about the allegations against them, “they tried to say that they are just the subject of intrigues, they are being maligned or someone is jealous of them.”

“They said they don’t know where those reports are coming from but you know I have my own ways to validate or verify reports or information or derogatory reports or information. I may not have the concrete or solid evidence to back it, but  I’m morally convinced that most of the reports have basis,” De Lima said.

Asked for specific issues against the two officials, De Lima said, “Not generally specific but the totality of their reputation.”

Napoles connection

Responding to questions, De Lima said the officials’ alleged connection to alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles is one report but this is not backed up by any concrete validation. “There are others, not only that,” she said but did not elaborate.

Esmeralda and Lasala had earlier denied to De Lima that they had  tipped off Napoles about her arrest warrant.

De Lima reiterated that the two are presidential appointees and therefore serve at the pleasure of the President.

“As far as I know, they have no CESO [Career Executive Service Officer] eligibility…and therefore they can be replaced anytime because they serve at the pleasure of the President,” she said.

De Lima said President Aquino “is not even compelled to state any reason.” She said, however, that she was compelled to recommend the replacement of the officials to help new NBI Chief Virgilio Mendez succeed in his pursuit of reforms.

“I feel that the reform initiatives would not be really successful and effective…if we don’t really clean up also the directorial staff level. We need to reinvigorate the NBI as an institution and the best way to do that is to make sure that those in the directorial staff are really dependable,” De Lima said.

Legal action

In a press conference, the sacked NBI officials announced that they plan to take legal action against their relief since they are career officials who should enjoy “security of tenure as accorded by the Constitution.”

“It all depends on our meeting later with the legal team on what appropriate action that we are going to take under the law,” Esmeralda said, adding that he saw no “need” to discuss the matter with De Lima.

He said that if De Lima wa unhappy with his performance, she should remember that he only had 25 agents under his supervision.

“I also want to inform the Secretary in the intelligence service, I only had 25 agents, not enough to operate for the entire country. Not 100, not thousands; 25 people,” Esmeralda said.

Lasala said he was surprised by his relief since he believes that “if you are hardworking and faithful to your duty, and have loyalty to the institution, your position is secure.”

When told that their replacements – Ricardo S. Pangan Jr for Esmeralda and Antonio M. Pagatpat for Lasala – are accomplished NBI insiders, Esmeralda said, “In fairness to them, tama naman ‘yon. Pero yung accomplishments namin mas sobra pa doon. (That’s true. But we have far more accomplishments.)

Esmeralda denied that he or Lasala had tipped Napoles about her arrest warrant. He said he knew who these NBI officials were but declined to name them for now. 

“I assure the public that it is definitely not me, definitely not Director Lasala.” –

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