MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila De Lima on Monday, July 11, fired back at Solicitor General Jose Calida, who is questioning her plan to initiate a Senate probe into drug-related police operations in the country.
"'Yan nga pinagtataka ko. Why is there such a reaction?" De Lima said in an interview with reporters. "If they're confident na aboveboard lahat 'yan, na sinusunod ang mga dapat sundin, mga patakaran o batas, lalo ang Saligang Batas, bakit ganyan reaction nila?"
(That's what I'm puzzled about. Why is there such a reaction? If they're confident that everything is aboveboard, that everything is followed – rules or laws, especially the Constitution, why is their reaction like that?)
If the administration has nothing to hide, De Lima said it should support "any and all" investigations by various government agencies.
De Lima, who is set to file a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry on the matter this week, maintained the probe would be in aid of legislation and not "of media mileage" as Calida alleged.
"That's not for him to say that. Sigurado po ako sa sarili ko (I am sure of myself)," the senator said. "Of course I know what is the nature of [a] Senate inquiry. I've read the rules, it's in the Constitution."
On Monday, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Roland Dela Rosa also decried "legal harassment" against the police force and urged them not to be "intimidated" by the threats of cases filed against them.
Senate President Franklin Drilon came to the rescue of De Lima, his partymate in the Liberal Party (LP).
"I am alarmed by the remarks made by Calida. His remarks were uncalled for and reek of arrogance, unbecoming of a solicitor general. What is he afraid of?" Drilon said in a statement.
He also said Calida should not interfere with legislative affairs, adding that he cannot stop the Senate from conducting a probe.
"While we laud and support the campaign against illegal drugs of the PNP, the Senate cannot sit idly on allegations of extrajudicial killings that saw a spike in the recent months," Drilon said.
Like De Lima, the Senate President said the investigation could in fact strengthen existing laws and further aid President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against drugs.
Despite being deemed a staunch critic of Duterte, De Lima is – and will remain – part of the majority bloc in the Senate, along with her fellow LP members.
Asked if the recent attacks on her are caused by political differences, De Lima said: "I don't know. I really don't know. Eh bakit sasabihin nila 'yun na other side of political fence na kasama naman ako sa majority as part of the LP bloc (Why would they say that I'm from the other side of the political fence when I am part of the majority as part of the LP bloc)? I'm part of the majority that's why I am supporting the Senate presidency bid of Senator Koko (Pimentel)," she said.
In fact, the senator said she backs the administration's other priorities, including the Freedom of Information measure, the resumption of peace talks, and the executive order on media killings, among others.
"I'm not an obstructionist. Ang nakikita lang kasi nila, like this issue, alam nila against death penalty and definitely against extrajudicial and summary killings, pero 'di ibig sabihin kokontra na ako sa lahat na magiging hakbang, sa lahat ng plano ng kasalukuyang administrasyon," De Lima said.
(I'm not an obstructionist. What they just see is that I'm against the death penalty and definitely against extrajudicial and summary killings. But that doesn't mean I will oppose all the steps or plans of the present administration.)
Despite the executive branch's opposition to her moves, De Lima maintained she would not back down.
"I will not be intimidated. I will still push for my proposal to conduct a Senate inquiry unless majority of my colleagues overrule me," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Duterte and De Lima have long been on opposing sides. During De Lima's watch, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into Duterte's alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad.
The DOJ stopped the probe in May due to the unwillingness of the sole witness to participate after Duterte won in the presidential elections.
De Lima's stance earned the ire of Duterte, who threatened to file charges against her for failing to stop drug peddling at the New Bilibid Prison under the DOJ – the same issue raised by Calida during his press conference. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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 email@example.com