Senate to probe De Lima for alleged ethics breach

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate ethics committee will investigate Senator Leila de Lima for her alleged "interference" in a House inquiry, but cleared her of the immorality and drug protection complaints against her. 

The panel on Monday, January 23, voted to dismiss the charges questioning De Lima's morality and links to illegal drugs, saying they have no jurisdiction on the issues because they were supposedly committed before De Lima became a senator. These complaints were filed by lawyer Abelardo de Jesus and migrant worker Ronillo Pulmano, based on President Rodrigo Duterte's statements.

The panel, however, found it has the authority to probe the two complaints – filed by House leaders and De Jesus – against De Lima for her alleged interference in a House probe when she advised her former boyfriend Ronnie Dayan to skip the hearing. The two complaints will be consolidated.

A House of Representatives committee was investigating how the illegal drug trade flourished during De Lima's time as justice secretary. They decided to call Dayan to a hearing due to allegations that he received bribes from drug lords to finance De Lima's senatorial bid. 

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, ethics committee chair, announced the decision, with no member opposing him.

"The complaints were dismissed because of lack of jurisdiction on the issue. We didn't talk about the form and substance anymore because the [lack of] jurisdiction issue was resolved already," Sotto told reporters after the hearing.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, ally of De Lima, supported the decision.

"[We] support the dismissal of the other complaints. We find as sufficient in form and substance the second supplemental complaint of [petitioner] De Jesus and the complaint of the House of Representatives," Drilon said during the hearing.

House leaders, in their complaint, argued that De Lima, the fiercest critic of President Duterte, violated Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code when she advised Dayan to snub the congressional hearing into the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison.

The law penalizes any person "who shall restrain another from attending as a witness, or who shall induce disobedience to a summon or refusal to be sworn by any such body or official."

The House leaders also accused De Lima of being "unparliamentary" for her negative comments on the House hearings.

Public hearing vs De Lima

Sotto said De Lima would be given 15 days from receipt of the committee's resolution to answer the complaint against her.

After this, a hearing will be called where De Lima and the complainants will be asked to explain their arguments.

Sotto said there would be public hearings to avoid questions on the partiality of the 7-member committee. De Lima earlier expressed doubts on the fairness of some members.

"We would like the public to see what's going on. Of course there are some who asked why it was not a closed-door hearing. It's difficult because if we have a decision that the public won't understand, we might be blamed. We don't want to be accused of pinning her down and, at the same time, we don't want to be accused of rescuing a colleague," Sotto said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Aside from Sotto, the other members are senators Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan II, Grace Poe, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Escudero, and Manny Pacquiao.

Ex-officio members include Drilon and Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto.

Drilon and Recto are De Lima's party mates in the Liberal Party while Hontiveros is a party ally.

Lacson and De Lima had a bitter past. De Lima, as justice secretary, launched a manhunt against Lacson in 2011 for being implicated in the murder of publicist Salvador Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito.

Pacquiao is a staunch ally of President Duterte, who has linked De Lima to illegal drugs. He has so far echoed all of Duterte's views on key issues.

Honasan, Poe, and Escudero belong to the same bloc, as they are known allies of Sotto. But Escudero has so far skipped voting on key issues in the chamber. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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