Koko Pimentel, Alan Cayetano: From De Lima’s clients to ‘critics’?

Camille Elemia

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Koko Pimentel, Alan Cayetano: From De Lima’s clients to ‘critics’?
Neophyte Senator Leila De Lima says they have built friendships along the way – something that may have little to no importance given the current circumstances

Prior to Senator Leila de Lima’s entry into politics, all was well between her and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who are both allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The two senators were clients of De Lima, an election lawyer before she became human rights commissioner, then justice secrtary, and now senator. In fact, De Lima won several cases for them: the disqualification case against then senatorial bet Cayetano in 2007 over his citizenship, a disqualification case against his namesake senatorial candidate Joselito Pepito “Peter” Cayetano as a nuisance bet, and Pimentel’s electoral protest against former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was proclaimed in 2007 as the 12th winning senator.

De Lima says they have built friendships along the way, but that’s something that may have little to no importance given the current circumstances.

The chairperson of the committee on justice and human rights, De Lima is a staunch critic of Duterte, and has launched a Senate probe into the spate of extrajudicial killings under his term. (READ: De Lima to Duterte administration: ‘Stop the killings now’)

President Duterte, meanwhile, has accused De Lima of having an affair with her married driver, who supposedly accepted bribes from drug lords in the national penitentiary on De Lima’s behalf.

On Tuesday, September 13, the Senate ethics committee is set to vote on whether the complaint about De Lima’s alleged drug links are sufficient in form and substance, and whether it has jurisdiction over it. 

‘Purely professional’

Pimentel is a fellow Mindanaoan and party mate in the PDP-Laban of the President, while Cayetano was Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 elections. (READ: Duterte and the Senate: Of allies, critics, and in-betweens)

De Lima says she has nothing personal against the two, however – no “tampo” at all that her former clients are on the other side of the fence amid the President’s attacks against her.

“None at all. My engagements with those clients were purely professional. Of course we also became friends in the course of handling their cases, but definitely there is nothing personal when it comes to their positions on issues in the Senate, especially now that I am their colleague,” De Lima told Rappler.

The past, she adds, no longer matters to the current scenario they are in.

“That is the nature of the Senate. As they say, each senator is a republic unto himself. So the fact that they were former clients is almost irrelevant to how we relate to each other now as colleagues and as friends,” she said.


Between Cayetano and Pimentel, it is the former who is more vocal in denouncing De Lima’s acts, as he is all out in “protecting” the President. (READ: Cayetano: ‘Biased’ De Lima should inhibit from Senate probe)

Cayetano said there is nothing “personal” on his tirades against his former counsel. After all that is the very nature of the Senate, citing his former “debates” with colleagues.

“Halos naman except ‘yung mga bago, nakadebate ko naman lahat, di ba? Nakadebate ko si Chiz [Escudero], we’re still good friends. Nakadebate ko si Senator [Ping] Lacson, we’re very good friends. So we’re all professionals here, walang issue na magkaiba kami ng side. Walang personalan,” Cayetano said in an interview on August 31.

(Almost everyone, except the new ones, I have debated with them, right? I have debated with Chiz Escudero, we’re still good friends. I have debated with Senator Ping Lacson, we’re very good friends. So we’re all professionals here, there’s no issue that we are on different sides. Nothing personal.)

But Cayetano himself cannot deny how awkward it is between him and De Lima.

“At times awkward because we are friends, but we’re professionals eh. Dito naman sa Senado nagkakabangaan. (Here in the Senate, we really don’t meet eye to eye all the time.) Of course, because she feels strongly about her issues, I feel very strongly about how they’re playing it out,” he said.

He criticized the neophyte senator for investigating the drug-related killings.

“It’s not about friendship. It’s about who’s correct. Kung mali si President Duterte, ever since naman sinabi nya sakin: ‘Alan, salita ka lang kung may makita kang mali.’ But there’s a way to do it. Ni hindi nakipag-meeting ang committee on justice sa mga pulis or sa mga dapat tumutulong eh, ni di nagpa-brief, imbestiga na agad,” Cayetano said.

(It’s not about friendship. It’s about who’s correct. If President Duterte is wrong, ever since he has told me, “Alan, just speak up if you see anything wrong.” But there’s a way to do it. The committee on justice did not even meet with the police or those who are helping. They did not even ask for a briefing, they just immediately launched an investigation.)

The President’s remarks and revelations against De Lima may well be considered personal and below the belt by critics. Asked if he ever calls out Duterte for such statements against his “friend” and former lawyer, Cayetano says he’d rather not speak up.

“Kung titignan mo kasi, pagka may away na, both sides may sinasabi. What would my input do?” he said. (If you will look at it, if there is already an ongoing fight, both sides are saying something. What would my input do?)

‘President is my idol’

Pimentel, as Senate President, has mostly kept mum on the issues involving Duterte and De Lima.

Asked if he feels caught in between the two, Pimentel only said: “Actually lahat ng senator kaibigan ko, ha? So kung may issues involving a senator siyempre concerned din ako. Ganun lang po ‘yun.”

(Actually all senators are my friends. So if there are issues involving a senator, of course I am also concerned. That’s how it is.)

Pimentel said Duterte, more than being his friend, is his “idol.” Their relationship goes beyond friendship, as the Senate leader said they are tied by shared ideologies.

It was his party, after all, that convinced Duterte to run in the May 2016 polls. At a time when Duterte skipped the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy, it was PDP-Laban that asked Martin Dino to file his COC, so Duterte could just substitute later on – which he eventually did in December 2015.

“Pero ang President kasi di lang sa kaibigan ko, idol ko pa, sinoportahan ko pa, isa kami sa nagkumbinsi sa kanya tumakbo, at kapartido ko po s’ya. Meron pong, ang samahan po namin ideology- and agenda-based. Kailangan ko suportahan ang Presidente na maging matagumpay kasi tagumpay din po yan ng aming partido,” Pimentel said.

(But the President is not just a friend, he is my idol, I supported him. We were among those who convinced him to run, and he is my party mate. Our relationship is ideology- and agenda-based. I need to support him si our party would also be successful.)

Pimentel admitted he and Duterte have long talked about the President’s fiercest critic. Amid reports Duterte was unhappy that he gave committee chairmanships to De Lima, Pimentel said the lady senator could still be of help to the administration. (READ: De Lima can help Duterte despite tirades – Pimentel)

In an earlier interview, Pimentel said he would not have become the Senate President if not for the majority bloc in the chamber, which included De Lima.

Despite this, Pimentel sees no need for the Senate to take a stand amid the ongoing personal attacks by the chief executive against the neophyte senator.

“No no no, di na. Actually tatapatin ko kayo (Actually, I will be upfront with you), Senator De Lima never asked for my help anyway, so okay.” – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.