war on drugs

Possible face-off? House invites both Duterte, De Lima to drug war probe

Jairo Bolledo

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Possible face-off? House invites both Duterte, De Lima to drug war probe
Aside from Duterte and De Lima, the House also invites PNP chief-turned-Senator Bato Dela Rosa, who first implemented Duterte's drug war

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives’ human rights panel has finally invited former president Rodrigo Duterte to attend its inquiry into drug war-related killings.

Not just him, though. The same committee has extended an invitation to his nemesis, former senator Leila de Lima, who was recently cleared of all the drug charges filed against her by the Duterte administration.

House human rights committee chair Bienvenido Abante of Manila’s 6th District expressed on Tuesday, June 25, his desire to see the former president face lawmakers who are zeroing in on his anti-narcotics campaign.

The invitation is most definitely an upgrade from the last decision made by the committee, which was merely to “inform” the senior citizen from Davao about the congressional proceedings.

“We have informed the former president of this hearing, so he knows,” Abante said.

“For the fourth hearing, I will be inviting Senator Bato dela Rosa and the former president to come and listen to your testimony,” the congressman also told the families of drug war victims who attended and spoke during Tuesday’s hearing.

In a statement sent to newsrooms late Tuesday evening, Dela Rosa said Senate President Chiz Escudero had advised him not to attend the House hearing. Dela Rosa was the implementor of Duterte’s drug war when he was chief of the Philippine National Police.

Duterte is technically not yet summoned by the panel, which means he is not compelled to show up the next time Abante’s committee convenes. But the invitation alone offers strong clues about where the congressional investigation is headed – towards Duterte.

Previously, the House committee invited dozens of police personalities with varying degrees of links to Duterte, including alleged hitmen of the mysterious Davao Death Squad (DDS). The committee also summoned the so-called Davao boys, or the Davao cops who were transferred to Metro Manila when the drug war began.

De Lima, who investigated the DDS as a former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and who investigated the drug war killings as senator, is an addition to that anti-Duterte bent.

During a Senate inquiry in 2016, De Lima presented self-confessed DDS member Edgar Matobato, who confirmed he took orders from Duterte. Matobato claimed there was a plan to ambush De Lima when she was still the CHR chairperson.

If and when De Lima appears in the House hearing, it would be a deja vu moment for the former lawmaker, who figured in an inquiry against her at the Batasang Pambansa in 2016. That congressional probe led by Duterte’s allies back then resulted in the filing of three charges against her, now all dismissed.

In an exclusive interview with Rappler on Monday, De Lima said she had forgiven others who caused her unjust detention, but not Duterte.

“I’m not yet ready to do that. I’m still waiting for God’s grace to be able to do that,” she said.

Possible face-off? House invites both Duterte, De Lima to drug war probe
More invitations

The latest hearing centered on the stories of drug war widows, including Mary Ann Domingo, who recently scored the fourth and latest conviction against police officials in the drug war.

The cops killed her common-law husband, Luis Bonifacio, and their son, Gabriel, during a drug war operation in Caloocan City in 2016. Four cops – Police Master Sergeant Virgilio Cervantes and Police Corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre, and Artemio Saguros – were found guilty of homicide.

The team leader of the operation, although not included in the guilty verdict, was Duterte’s namesake, Police Lieutenant Colonel Ali Jose Duterte. He was also invited to the next hearing.

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Domingo and her lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) are still appealing to the Supreme Court to include more cops, like Ali Jose Duterte, in the case.

Lawmakers also invited Prosecutor Darwin Cañete to face lawmakers, as he was the prosecutor in charge of the Bonifacio case. Domingo’s lawyers claimed the prosecutor was of no help.

Cañete is known for being hostile toward drug war victims. He once said that the innocence of Kian de los Santos, who was killed by Caloocan cops in 2016, “was too far-fetched.”

When Duterte was still in power, Cañete once said that “yellows,” referring to the once-ruling Liberal Party, should be killed “like cockroaches.” Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.