De Lima: New 'offensive' needed to fight corruption

MANILA, Philippines – Former justice secretary and now senatorial aspirant Leila de Lima said a new "offensive" is needed in the fight against corruption, particularly in deterring politicians from amassing ill-gotten wealth. 

This offensive, she said in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, October 20, is one that examines legal processes.

De Lima praised the Ombudsman and theSandiganbayan for what she said was an unprecedented number of cases filed before the anti-graft court. 

She cited the filing of plunder charges against senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla over the pork barrel corruption scandal, where billions of taxpayers' money were allegedly siphoned off to fake non-government organizations supposedly controlled by Janet Lim Napoles.

If elected to a Senate seat in 2016, De Lima said her priority would be to examine the legal framework.

"I'd like to take a very close look at the existing legal procedures and legal mechanisms on hidden wealth, how to make it more difficult for the plunderers to use, hide and conceal their ill gotten wealth. That's what we lack. We have the forfeiture law, but how come it's still so difficult to freeze [assets]?" she said.

De Lima, who filed her certificate of candidacy last week, quit her post as justice secretary to run for a Senate seat.

Before her stint as head of the justice department, she was the chief of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

A relative political newbie, De Lima believes the youth vote may be key to victory for political neophytes aspiring for national positions like her.

"Young people tend to gravitate to new faces, fresh personalities. Because they have had enough of the oldies, the trapos, they would want to try out new faces," De Lima said.

"The youth can be persuaded to really espouse for a lot of issues in society, beginning with anti-corruption and rule of law, and even human rights," she added.

In her 5-year stint as a Cabinet member, De Lima was involved in several high profile cases: the filing of cases against politicians tagged in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam; the probe into the bloody Mamasapano encounter; and the controversy surrounding the illegal detention case filed against top officials of the politically influential religious group Iglesia ni Cristo.

Joining politics

Explaining her move from the CHR to the justice department, De Lima said she considered the transition not as a different endeavor, but a "continuation of what I'd been fighting for and representing." 

"I always see justice and human rights as standing together, as going side by side. We cannot talk about justice without human rights and human rights without justice, it's got to be always both," she said.

"Forget about attaining justice if you don't respect human rights," she added.

Because of her experience as an outsider to the executive and later as a member of it, De Lima said she was able to spot the "gaps and deficiencies" in the justice system.

"Therefore, I would now want to take a look at the legislative agenda. I would now want to contribute what I think are needed to further make justice accessible to the poor, to the marginalized, and to punish the guilty faster," she said.

The former justice secretary also said that her move to politics was not planned.

Her late father even cautioned her not to join the political fray, she said.

"[My father said], if you still want to be of service to your country after your DOJ stint, please do so. But if you can avoid politics, please avoid politics. He's worried about me being very exposed. You know how certain people can be so cruel, going beyond what is civil and professional, the mudslinging and everything," she said.

Her eventual decision to run for the Senate, she said, was prompted by the desire to continue her advocacies.

De Lima is running under the banner of the ruling Liberal Party.

Even before she confirmed her plans to run for senator, she had ranked in the top 12 names in a September SWS survey on senatorial preferences.

Conducted a few days after the INC protest demanding her resignation, the survey showed De Lima ranking 7th, with 33% of respondents saying they would vote for her. – Rappler.com