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MANILA, Philippines – “Some call me a controversial public figure. I cannot and will not deny it.”
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima faced the Commission on Appointments (CA) for the first time, addressing point-by-point the wide range of issues that Senator Jinggoy Estrada and jueteng whistleblower Sandra Cam raised against her.
Yet De Lima drew the line when Estrada and Cam pressed her to respond to allegations of an “illicit affair.”
“It’s too demeaning for me to publicly address those allegations,” De Lima told Estrada in a hearing of the CA justice committee on Wednesday, June 4.
Turning emotional and raising her voice, Cam challenged De Lima to confront the issue, saying she even has video to prove the alleged affair.
“I’m encouraging Secretary De Lima to file a libel case against me so I have the chance to bring the truth to court. I’m just waiting for the proper forum and the video tape,” Cam said.
De Lima replied curtly, “I won’t waste time doing that.”
CA justice committee chairman Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III allowed De Lima to submit a written response to Cam’s affidavit by Monday instead of answering in the public hearing. In Cam’s affidavit submitted to the CA, she cited media reports that De Lima had “illicit affairs” with two men.
The CA did not yet vote on De Lima’s confirmation because Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano still wants to ask questions next week.
P1M allowances, bias for Reyes?
Cam was the only one of 3 oppositors who showed up in the hearing. Yet Estrada also used the hearing to grill De Lima on issues ranging from her alleged bias for her former clients, to the salary and allowances she received as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The senator is indicted for plunder over the pork barrel scam, a case De Lima’s department investigated and filed before the Ombudsman.
Estrada asked De Lima if it was her ex-client, former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, who recommended her to Arroyo to be CHR chief in 2008. A former election lawyer, De Lima said she was not aware of this.
Estrada claimed that when De Lima was CHR chairperson, she supposedly called Reyes to complain that the salary was too low and she would not “earn” anything. De Lima replied, “Of course not. I don’t know where you got that.”
De Lima said she received a salary of less than P100,000 in the CHR. Yet Estrada claimed that she got an additional P1 million a month as allowance from Arroyo, with the funds coming from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).
De Lima said, “There was a confidential fund allotted to the CHR but that was not allowance. Sometimes, it was quarterly: P500,000 as confidential, intelligence funds.”
Estrada shot back, “I don’t believe that. You received a monthly allowance of P1 million.”
The senator then turned to Reyes’ case, where he was accused of ordering the murder of environmentalist broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011.
De Lima admitted that before fleeing from authorities, Reyes called her to “ask for fairness” in the case. “I said I can guarantee fairness as I always do. I did not give him preference. I cannot give such a favor.”
Estrada then shifted to De Lima’s inquiries about his trips abroad after the filing of the pork barrel scam complaint before the Ombudsman. The secretary clarified that she was just confirming his whereabouts with the Bureau of Immigration but did not stop him from leaving.
Estrada said, “I will face the charges, though fabricated."
De Lima responded, “With due respect, I disagree they're fabricated.”
‘Napoles is worth listening to’
Cam also aired out her grievances against De Lima in a tearful testimony.
Echoing a line Estrada always uses, Cam said: “We cannot tolerate selective justice, favors to crooks, the flight of fugitives, and sloppy prosecution. I want to bring justice to DOJ (Department of Justice) victimized by the incompetence, apathy of leader. After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
In response, De Lima defended her decision to consider alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles’ offer to testify in exchange for immunity.
“As part of our truth-seeking mandate, why wouldn't I listen to Napoles? Whether partly telling the truth or lying, it's worth listening to.”
“I find myself in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If I stop pursuing Napoles’ affidavit, the opposition will accuse us of a cover-up. If I’m pursuing this, which I am, some people are quick to accuse me of lawyering for Napoles, which is an unfair accusation,” De Lima added.
The justice secretary flatly denied the allegation that money changed hands in the reversal of the justice department’s decision on the serious illegal detention case principal whistleblower Benhur Luy filed against Napoles.
She said she had nothing to do with it, because Napoles’ lawyer decided to raise the case before the Court of Appeals.
De Lima addressed other allegations Cam raised in her affidavit:
‘Without fear or favor’
De Lima asked the CA to confirm her, saying her delayed hearing turned out to be a blessing because she is able to show her record as justice secretary for 4 years.
“I don't claim to be an expert in all areas of law. I don't claim I never made errors of judgment. No one can make such a claim. But the one quality required of a secretary of justice is the singular tenacity to do what needs to be done without fear or favor. I've proven this time and again,” she said.
“Being called controversial shows I’ve proven that I can take on challenges. I humbly, fervently pray for confirmation.” – Rappler.com