The public trial of Leila de Lima

Mara Cepeda

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

The public trial of Leila de Lima

LeAnne Jazul

Rappler lists down all the accusations made against Senator Leila de Lima in the past 3 months and her responses

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The past 3 months have been a political whirlwind for Senator Leila de Lima.

She has dared to go against President Rodrigo Duterte, who came into the presidency with a 91% public trust rating, by leading a Senate probe into the spate of extrajudicial killings following the new administration’s declaration of war on drugs. 

She presented self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who claimed he was once part of the “Davao Death Squad” that supposedly targets criminals as well as the personal and political rivals of Duterte and his son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

A few days later, the senator lost the chairmanship of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. Then the House of Representatives began investigating the alleged proliferation of drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when De Lima was justice secretary.

The former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights is now facing at least two ethics complaints over her supposed links to the illegal drug trade. Senator Richard Gordon, who has replaced her as justice committee chair, is eyeing another ethics complaint against her, this time for “unparliamentary” acts in relation to the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings on October 3.

She walked out twice at the Senate – the first when Duterte ally Senator Alan Peter Cayetano was delivering a privilege speech against her, and the second time after senators ganged up on her during a hearing of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.

On top of these, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a Duterte ally, said he saw nothing wrong in showing De Lima’s alleged sex video with her former bodyguard and driver Ronnie Dayan – who is accused of not only being De Lima’s bagman but of also having an affair with her – at a congressional inquiry, though he changed his tune later after the plan drew condemnation not only from fellow lawmakers but other groups, as well.

Despite the string of attacks, De Lima continued to face the media, exchanging tirades with no less than the President himself, who has made the senator a regular subject of disparaging comments in his public addresses.

Rappler lists down the allegations against the senator, so far, and her responses:

Accusation: Illicit affair with former bodyguard and driver Ronnie Dayan, who allegedly collected drug money for De Lima from Bilibid inmates

A week before De Lima leads the Senate probe into the extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s war on drugs, Duterte made a scathing attack against the senator in a speech at Came Crame on August 17. 

At first, the President did not name anyone but gave obvious hints that he referred to De Lima, when he alleged that an “immoral” senator used her driver to collect drug money at the NBP.  

In a news briefing after the event, he confirmed that he was referring to De Lima.

De Lima’s reply: Character assassination, abuse of power by Duterte

Facing reporters later that day, a teary-eyed De Lima called Duterte’s accusation as “character assassination.” Still, she said, the President will not stop her from launching the Senate probe into the spate of killings in the war on drugs.

De Lima, however, neither confirmed nor denied her supposed illicit affair with her driver.

A more feisty De Lima was seen days after, first saying in a press conference at the Senate that Duterte was abusing and misusing his executive power

“How does one defend oneself, when the attacker is immune from suit, and has all the backing of executive power to support him in his personal attack?” asked De Lima.

She then asked the President to spare her family and friends from the attacks. She said she already contemplated not to pursue the Senate probe, but lamented that she cannot abandon her role as public servant. 

Duterte does not think his accusation was below the belt, telling De Lima that she brought the remarks upon herself. (READ: Duterte to De Lima: Don’t complain, you’re a public official)

Anong ‘spare the family’? ‘Pag nasa public eye ka (What do you mean, ‘spare the family’? When you’re in the public eye) De Lima, your life is an open book,” said the President.

Two days later, De Lima holds another press conference to deny her alleged links to the drug trade, saying she is “willing to be shot” if proven otherwise. 

She also urged her critics to stay away from Dayan.

Sana ho ‘wag ninyo siyang galawin. Sana po ‘wag ‘nyo siyang damputin. Puwede ‘nyo lang siyang damputin kung meron kayong warrant of arrest. Pero ‘pag wala pong warrant of arrest, sana po ‘wag siyang pakialaman,” said De Lima

(I hope you don’t touch him. I hope you don’t arrest him. You can only arrest him if you have a warrant of arrest. But if you don’t have a warrant of arrest, please leave him alone.)

Accusation: Drugs proliferated inside the NBP when De Lima was still justice secretary 

House leaders led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a close Duterte ally, filed a resolution seeking to investigate, “in aid of legislation,” how the the illegal drug trade allegedly thrived at the NBP when De Lima led the DOJ. 

The NBP, which is under the DOJ’s supervision, is notorious for rampant drug use, violence, and corruption among the inmates and prison guards. (READ: DOJ under Duterte admin: Reform BuCor, New Bilibid Prison)

During the campaign period for the May polls, Duterte said he would investigate De Lima for her supposed slowness in cracking down on shabu laboratories inside the national penitentiary. 

De Lima reply: “I was the one who exposed problems there.”

Under De Lima’s watch, the DOJ conducted over 30 inspections at the NBP under its surprise inspections initiative callled “Oplan Galugad.” De Lima also chaired the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) before her stint as justice secretary.

She cried foul over the House probe, which she called a “sham inquiry” designed by Duterte and his allies to tailor-fit the President’s allegations against her.

Ako ‘yung nag-initiate. Ako nag-umpisa niyan. So bakit ako ngayon ang iimbestigahan? Ako gumawa ng paraan, ako nagsiwalat ng mga naging problema diyan. They know I exerted certain effort, I took some steps after discovering all of these sa loob ng Bilibid,” said De Lima.

(I was the one who initiated a probe. I started it. So why am I the one being investigated? I was the one who acted on it, I was the one who exposed the problems there. They know I exerted certain effort, I took some steps after discovering all of these inside the Bilibid.)

Accusation: The pork barrel scam needs to be revisited because De Lima is supposedly linked to it

On August 21, Duterte said he wants to revisit the controversy involving the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund involving pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. 

“The Napoles case should deserve a second look. For it also involves corruption and De Lima,” said Duterte, who did not give further details.

De Lima’s reply: That’s nothing new.

Naku, rehashed issue na naman ‘yan. ‘Yan sinasabi ko. Bakit sila naghahalungkat nang naghahalungkat ng mga ‘yan? Anong ibig sabihin niyan? Masyado naman,” argued De Lima. 

(That’s a rehashed issue. That’s what I’m saying. Why are they digging and digging up that issue? What does that mean? It’s too much.)

She also said that in 2013, the DOJ under her leadership initiated the filing of plunder charges against Napoles, 3 senators, and other public officials in connection with the pork barrel scam.

The opposition later accused the department and the Aquino government of “selective justice” as the investigation supposedly spared allies of then President Benigno Aquino III.

Accusation: The “Muntinlupa Connection” drug matrix

On August 25, Duterte publicized a drug matrix of the NBP drug trade, which included the names of De Lima, Dayan, former Pangasinan governor and now Pangasinan 5th District Representative Amado Espino Jr, Pangasinan Provincial Administrator Raffy Baraan, and former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu.

De Lima’s reply: That’s “garbage”

De Lima, Espino, and Baraan all denied their alleged involvement into the proliferation of illegal drugs in the national penitentiary. 

De Lima called Duterte’s drug matrix as “garbage,” while Baraan called it a “big, horrible joke.”  

Espino, meanwhile, the matrix cannot be true because he could not see himself being associated with De Lima, who authorized the investigation of a murder case against him in 2013.  He was later absolved of any participation in the crime in August 2015.

A month after brandishing the drug matrix in public, Duterte apologized for including the names of the Pangasinan officials. The President took full responsibility for “being negligent in counterchecking.” (READ: Aguirre: Another mistake in Duterte drug matrix)

While Espino was humbled by Duterte’s apology, De Lima said it only proves her innocence

Accusation: Millions of pesos in drug money in De Lima’s bank accounts

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the DOJ is working on retrieving documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council that would show illegal drug transactions worth P500 million up to P1 billion that may possibly have ended up in the senator’s bank accounts.

“We don’t expect the bank deposits to be under the name of De Lima because she uses people to collect on her behalf,” said Aguirre.

Aguirre also claimed that two former staff of De Lima testified against the senator and purportedly submitted bank deposit slips. The two, however, publicly denied it.

De Lima’s reply: ‘Fictitious’ allegations

De Lima again denied the accusation on August 25, saying she does not have billions nor millions in her bank accounts. She also denied having any dummy accounts.  

She called Aguirre’s allegations as “fictitious.”

On the same day, lawyer Abelardo De Jesus filed an ethics complaint against the senator before the Senate ethics committee and privileges. (READ: Senate ethics body torn on how to handle complaint vs De Lima)

In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, pointed out that De Lima “has no fortune to show,” claiming that the senator “does not even own the house she lives in” now.

Accusation: As DOJ secretary, De Lima allowed drugs to proliferate inside the NBP 

At the start of the House committee on justice investigation on September 20, former police chief inspector turned kidnapping convict Rodolfo Magleo said the NBP turned into a “Little Las Vegas” during De Lima’s term.

High-profile convict Herbert Colanggo testified that he gave De Lima P3 million worth of drug money monthly through her alleged bagman.

Two National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officials said the same. Former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and NBI agent Jovencio Ablen Jr claimed they delivered a P5 million “quota” to De Lima’s residence on two occasions in 2012.

The next day, at least 5 convicts told congressmen that influential NBP gang leader Jaybee Sebastian helped fund De Lima’s 2016 senatorial bid by collecting drug money from within the prison.  

De Lima’s reply: Aguirre’s evidence as ‘fake as his wig

De Lima questioned all the evidence Aguirre had presented before the House panel by referencing to the latter’s wig

“Secretary Aguirre’s alleged evidence against me is like his toupee, his wig – fake and cosmetics only. There is nothing into it other than that. Nothing’s authentic,” said De Lima on September 27.

She also said that Sebastian is, in reality, a government asset

During the House probe, De Lima’s residence and mobile phone number were revealed to the public, prompting to her to move to a temporary home. She also reportedly received more than 2,000 hate messages through her phone. 

Accusation: De Lima is a bad example for women and should resign 

In a short speech in Tacloban City on August 29, Duterte urged his fiercest critic to resign as senator in light of all the controversies she is facing.  

Dapat ka mag-resign (You should resign), you resign….If I were De Lima, ladies and gentlemen, I will hang myself. The innermost of your core as female being serialized every day,” said the President.

De Lima’s reply: ‘Why take advice from my persecutor?’

The lady senator refused to back down, saying there is no need to heed the call of her persecutor.

“Is there any reason why I should be taking advice from the person who is persecuting and maligning me? I don’t think so,” said De Lima. 

“It is only natural to self-preservation that one does not rely on the suggestions of those who want to see you extinguished and who wish your destruction,” she added.

Accusation: De Lima committed ‘material concealment’ during the Senate probe on extrajudicial killings

An “umbraged” Senator Richard Gordon chastised De Lima during the Senate  hearing on October 3 for allegedly failing to disclose early on that her star witness, Matobato, has a pending kidnapping case involving Salim Makdum – one of the people that the Davao Death Squad had allegedly eliminated, based on the earlier testimony of Matobatao.

De Lima initially admitted that the information was part of “notes” gathered over a series of interviews with Matobato in September. She admitted the mistake and said it was an “oversight.”

Gordon said  this a “fatal” mistake and accused De Lima of “material concealment.”

“I cannot let that pass. I can speak for lawyers, that concealment is really despicable and even unethical. I have to express my umbrage at this very, very bad situation….We went on a very wild goose chase here because had we known that, we would not have called all these people,” Gordon said, referring to the Davao City policemen invited to that hearing.

De Lima’s reply: Transcript says otherwise

After a heated exchange with senators, De Lima walked out of the hearing. 

A transcript provided later by her office showed that Matobato did mention the kidnapping charges against him during the September 15 hearing, the first time he testified at the Senate. 

Accusation: De Lima received a total of P14 million from Bilibid inmate Jaybee Sebastian

Convicted kidnapper Jaybee Sebastian, tagged in previous hearings as the one who was given preferential treatment by De Lima, testified before the House on October 10 that he was asked by De Lima’s former security aide, Joenel Sanchez, to contribute to her senatorial campaign. Sebastian said he gave De Lima and Sanchez a total of P14 million from December 2014 to May 2015, or a year before the May 2016 elections.

De Lima’s reply: Sebastian has given in to “pressures” from the Duterte administration

The senator reiterated her claim her that Sebastian was the target of the September 28 deadly riot in Bilibid. “In other words, he listened to his wife: ‘Just do what they want you to do because they are only after De Lima. Senator De Lima would understand it,'” De Lima said in Filipino. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.