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Will CA take up De Lima’s alleged ‘illicit affair’?

MANILA, Philippines – When Justice Secretary Leila de Lima faces the Commission on Appointments (CA) for the first time, she will be asked not just about her investigation into the pork barrel scam and decisions as head of the country’s prosecutors.

Whistleblower Sandra Cam plans to oppose De Lima’s confirmation, with one of the grounds being an alleged “illicit affair.” Cam revealed the plan in an interview over radio DZBB on Tuesday, June 3, on the eve of De Lima’s first confirmation hearing.

Will the bicameral body entertain the issue?

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, CA justice committee chairman, said he has yet to read Cam’s opposition and determine whether it is relevant or not.

“The general rule there is [personal issues] are not allowed, unless my fellow majority committee members believe it will go into or affect the competence of the nominee. But if the general feeling is tsismis lang ito, madi-distract lang tayo, competent pa rin naman ang nominee, 'di na natin papayagang maging avenue o venue o forum ang committee ng propagation ng tsismis,” Pimentel said.

(If this is just gossip, we will just be distracted. If the nominee is still competent, we should not allow the committee to become an avenue or venue or forum to propagate gossip.)

As for his own sentiments, Pimentel said, “Of course, ayoko ng tsismis ah. Gusto ko ng personal knowledge as much as possible.” (I don’t want gossip. I want personal knowledge.)

The CA is a body that the 1987 Constitution created to vet high-level presidential appointees for checks and balances, and to determine their competence, integrity, and fitness for office. It is composed of 12 senators and 12 representatives, with the Senate President as chairman.

In deciding on whether to entertain Cam, Pimentel said he will ask her if she has personal knowledge of the alleged affair, and how she got that knowledge. “But it’s subjective because it’s up to the members to say if it affects the nominee’s productivity and competence.”

Cam has been criticizing De Lima over the conduct of the investigation into the pork barrel scam. The head of the Whistleblowers Association of the Philippines, Cam launched a signature drive calling on De Lima to resign for allegedly losing her integrity.

Cam claims the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation received P150 million in bribes from alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to drop the serious illegal detention case that whistleblower Benhur Luy filed against her.

De Lima has questioned the campaign, but said it will not stop her from doing her job. “Why will I focus on them? I have more important things to do. There are other priority things that I am doing about PDAF, about Napoles – these are just some of the important things I am doing.”

Cam also warned De Lima against “sanitizing” the list of officials Napoles implicated. The whistleblower said she had a copy of the list but could not vouch for its credibility. 

Jinggoy: Affair can be grounds for disbarment

Besides Cam, there are two more critics opposing De Lima's confirmation: former Siquijor Representative Orlando Fua and Ma. Virginia Libunao.

Pimentel said these oppositions were filed back in 2010 or 2011, focusing on De Lima’s work as justice secretary.

“They are questioning some of the decisions made by the Secretary as Secretary of Justice because she formed some panels. She made a decision this way, but that is the nature of the job of a secretary of justice. As far as preliminary investigation is concerned, you are the judge. If you file a case, the accused will get mad at you. If you don’t file the case, the complainant will complain,” Pimentel said.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada reiterated that he is not opposing De Lima’s confirmation, only that of Commission on Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza. Estrada is among 3 senators that the DOJ filed a plunder complaint against over the pork barrel scam.

Estrada though said he will join De Lima’s confirmation hearing to listen to Cam’s opposition. He said De Lima’s alleged “illicit affair” is a “morality issue” and can be a basis for disbarment.

“[Secretary De Lima] is a lawyer. Although her marriage was already annulled, but if ever it is true that she is being romantically linked to a married man, well, that’s another story,” Estrada said.

Estrada laughed while asking about Cam’s accusation. “May illicit affairs ba? 'Di kasi ako tsismoso eh, pero bukas alamin natin kung sinu-sino ang mga iyan. Sino ba ang na-implicate? Sino ba nali-link?” (Are there illicit affairs? I am not a meddler, but let us find out tomorrow who are involved. Who is implicated? Who is she linked to?)

Asked if he will vote to confirm De Lima, Estrada said: “It depends. I can abstain, but I will not invoke [the one-person veto] because I might be misinterpreted [as] getting even with her. It’s not my character.”

Pimentel said that with Congress adjourning next week, the CA rules allow the body to vote on De Lima’s confirmation without delay. “If the majority approves, then she’s approved.”

De Lima was Pimentel’s election lawyer in the 2007 polls. “That will not be a conflict, but I have personal knowledge of her competence,” Pimentel said.

Drilon: Limit CA to two bypasses

Besides De Lima, 3 other Cabinet secretaries remain unconfirmed 4 years into the Aquino administration: Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla.

With the process dragging on for years, Senate President Franklin Drilon proposed that the CA only bypass nominees twice then vote on their confirmation.

“We should prohibit taking the route of ‘Okay, let’s bypass this and no longer vote on it.’ To me, after two bypasses, let us vote on it,” Drilon said over radio DWIZ.

Drilon said he prefers this idea compared to the bill filed by President Benigno Aquino III when he was senator. Ironically, when Aquino was senator in 2007, he filed a bill prohibiting the President from reappointing a nominee that the CA bypassed 3 times. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV filed a similar measure but limited the bypasses to two.

A former justice secretary, Drilon said the Aquino bill is questionable. 

“You cannot say the President cannot reappoint. That is, to me, a limit on the president’s appointing power under the Constitution to choose members of his Cabinet,” Drilon said. – Rappler.com