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House minority wants panel to recommend filing charges vs De Lima

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the House minority bloc want the committee on justice to recommend the filing of criminal charges against Senator Leila de Lima, who was linked by witnesses during a congressional inquiry to the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

This comes after Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali, justice committee chairperson, said the panel has no business recommending the prosecution of individuals in their committee report.  

“So we don’t know what the majority will do but in behalf of the minority, we already have a position,” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said on Monday, October 17. 

“We will recommend an action that will be based on the findings of the committee report… I would like to make a prediction, it would be prosecution, filing of a criminal charge based on the findings,” he added.

Suarez was one of 2 lawmakers who grilled Umali during the committee meeting on Monday morning for saying that prosecution is “not [the] job” of the House of Representatives. 

Upon the suggestion of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Umali said the committee report would focus on proposing amendments to laws concerning the prison system and the illegal drug trade. 

But Suarez said that the past 4 hearings on the NBP drug trade established evidence against De Lima, who served as justice secretary under the previous Aquino administration and who, in such capacity, had jurisdiction over the NBP. (Read the wrap of the hearings on days 1, 2, and 3)

The senator had been accused of coddling drug lords and allegedly using drug money from within and outside the national penitentiary to fund her 2016 senatorial bid. De Lima’s former aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez are also allegedly her bagmen and supposed lovers. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima

For Kabayan Representative Harry Roque of the minority, De Lima must face charges for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“I understand why the majority wants to desist from such a recommendation because it wants to avoid the impression that the investigation was a witch-hunt against Senator de Lima. However, we are elected legislators and we took an oath to uphold the laws of the land. I believe it is incumbent upon the members of Congress to recommend the filing of criminal charges if we believe that our laws have been violated,” said Roque. 

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption has already filed a drug trafficking complaint against De Lima and 7 others. 

De Lima, the fiercest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, refused to participate in the House probe, saying it was designed by Duterte and his allies to destroy her reputation. 

Minority to ‘make a stand’ 

In the House of Representatives, only 18 lawmakers are part of the minority bloc while 7 are part of the independent minority bloc called the “Magnificent 7.” The remaining 268 are members of the so-called super majority allied with the President. 

Should the Umali-led justice committee decide to leave out the recommendation to file charges against De Lima, Suarez said the minority won't sign the report and instead draft a dissenting opinion. 

“We will be outvoted definitely, but we’ll make a stand,” said Suarez.

The House committee on justice finished the first draft of the report on Monday morning.  

They held an executive session for about 6 hours to tackle its contents. The executive session was suspended at 4 pm and will resume at 9 am on Tuesday. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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