Duterte, De Lima and Lascañas: Not a love triangle
There are two sides to the story behind the filing of criminal charges against Senator Leila de Lima for alleged trading in illegal drugs. The government version is probably the more publicized between these two sides.
This version paints De Lima as the mother of all drug lords who is responsible for the surge in the illegal drug trade in the entire country.
If President Duterte is to be believed, De Lima’s entire government career has been dedicated to nothing but making sure that illegal drugs lord it all over the entire country and that every Filipino citizen is turned into a drug pusher or addict. Unfortunately for De Lima, this version peddled by the President, his men, and social media operations has gained ground in the consciousness of the Filipinos until it took hold of public opinion and became, for all intents and purposes, the truth on the matter.
The other side, of course, is the story as it was documented by mainstream media all throughout the senator’s years in public service since 2008 when she was appointed as the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. The facts of this story are straightforward and can be Google-searched by anyone.
The bare facts of this story can be summarized in 3 basic major events.
The first major event is the 2009 CHR investigation on the Davao Death Squad, when De Lima as CHR chairperson held a series of hearings in Davao City and publicly berated then Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte for his failure to put an end to the daily extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals in his city.
After becoming president, Duterte minced no words in proclaiming to the media that he was never able to forget this incident, where a woman lawyer from imperial Manila came all the way down to his kingdom in the South to raise her voice and point a finger at him in front of his loyal subjects of barangay officials, police officers, community leaders, and local media.
The President would not have any of that without his vengeance, and promised to have De Lima eat the compact disc of the recording of the 2009 CHR proceedings where he was publicly scolded by De Lima. But we all know now that, that was not to be the limit of Duterte’s revenge, given that the senator is now in prison.
The second major event is the December 15, 2014 Bilibid raid led by De Lima as DOJ Secretary, together with elements from the BuCor, NBI, PDEA, PNP-SAF, PNP-NCRPO, PNP-Muntinlupa, and the PAOCC.
This raid, which resulted in the dismantling of the luxurious living quarters of the so-called Bilibid drug lords and the isolation of 19 of these drug lords from the rest of the prison population, was the subject of every major news service in the country at that time, until it was overshadowed by the tragedy of the Mamasapano encounter on January 24, 2015.
For almost 3 weeks the Filipino people were exposed to broadcast videos of a grim and determined De Lima raiding the Bilibid kubols with fully armed NBI agents backed up by PNP-SAF snipers. All of these of course were to be forgotten in the Filipinos’ short memory, which only extends as far as the previous celebrated news event, which at that time was to be the last major crisis of the Aquino government, the debacle of Mamasapano.
The third major event is the launching of the Senate investigation on President Duterte’s war on drugs and the consequent extrajudicial killings committed by law enforcers and vigilante death squads.
The hearing was led by De Lima, then a newly-elected senator, as chairperson of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. De Lima had one star witness, self-confessed Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato, who also claimed to be the right-hand of Mayor Duterte’s right-hand man in the death squad, SPO3 Arturo Lascañas.
During the hearing, the entire Davao Death Squad as named by Matobato was called to the Senate. They were led by SPO3 Lascañas who expertly sparred with De Lima and parried her blows on his personal relationship with Matobato. Lascañas denied everything about the DDS, saying it was merely a media creation.
As of this writing, however, Lascañas is testifying once again in the Senate, this time corroborating every material statement that Matobato has made, viz., that the DDS is real, that it was organized, led, and financed by Mayor Duterte, and that it was responsible for the summary execution of suspected criminals, and eventually the political opponents, critics, and personal enemies of the Dutertes of Davao City.
Lascañas is still currently spilling the beans on the DDS and President Duterte, proving that De Lima’s once lonely crusade against the President, the DDS, and the present nationwide EJKs in urban poor communities, masquerading as a war on drugs, was not launched by the senator and former CHR chairperson in vain.
Upon questioning by Senator Grace Poe on further corroborative testimonies, Senator Trillanes answered for Lascañas, saying that there are other witnesses who are approaching certain priests for purposes of making their testimonies on the DDS public, with FLAG lawyer Arno Sanidad eagerly nodding in the background.
War vs De Lima
It is therefore safe to assume that more DDS members are expected to follow the example of Matobato and Lascañas, and therefore present us with more clear and convincing evidence regarding the operations of the DDS, and the President’s role as the mastermind of the longest-running vigilante death squad in Philippine history. This comes almost 8 years to the day when De Lima first confronted Mayor Duterte at the start of the CHR investigations on the DDS inside a conference hall of the Royal Mandaya Hotel one cloudy day in March 2009.
As soon as De Lima delivered her privilege speech on August 9, 2016 calling for the EJK investigations, Duterte and his men, in turn, launched their own war against De Lima, which invariably swung from salacious misogyny to outright McCarthyist witch-hunting.
The President’s war against De Lima eventually devoured every accomplishment of the former CHR chairperson and DOJ secretary, from her courageous initiative as the first public official to investigate the Davao killings and the untouchable Davao mayor, to her PDAF investigations that led to the arrest of 3 senators, and most prominently her own war on the illegal drug trade inside Bilibid which resulted in the first-ever major raid of the national prison by any public official.
Duterte’s war on De Lima was formally launched in the House of Representatives’ justice committee hearings on the Bilibid drug trade.
The present criminal cases against De Lima originated from the same House hearing which purportedly dealt on the Bilibid drug trade during De Lima’s term as secretary of justice, but which instead focused on the senator’s personal sex life with her driver-bodyguard and alleged sexual proclivities, interspersed with the accusations thrown in by the same criminal convicts whose network and ultimate power base of underground businesses were completely turned upside down by De Lima and her December 14, 2015 Bilibid raid.
During the said House hearings, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II presented a total of 22 witnesses, most of whom are high-level convicts at the Bilibid, and granted immunity by Speaker Alvarez. Five (5) of these convicts have pending requests for clemency.
Instead of being recognized for her decisive action against the drug trade in Bilibid, De Lima was painted in the House inquiry as the Bilibid drug queen, using the very same convicted criminals who had every reason to take any opportunity for payback against her by fabricating fantastic stories of corruption in exchange for whatever was dangled before them by Secretary Aguirre.
These include immunity from prosecution, the restoration of prison privileges and non-regulation amenities, and most importantly, the assurance that they won’t be stabbed to death in staged prison riots.
To add insult to injury, President Duterte took credit for the December 15, 2014 Bilibid raid, when he claimed that De Lima executed the raid only after he revealed to her the rampant drug-trading within the walls of the Bilibid. De Lima denied this, saying she had no communication whatsoever with the then Davao City mayor since that CHR public hearing in Davao City in March of 2009.
Prejudged by Duterte, Aguirre
From hereon, what were accepted facts as broadcast by media were projected as De Lima’s own propaganda, and that the truth is that she actually undertook the Bilibid raid to prop up her own control over the Bilibid drug trade.
The actual facts of De Lima’s accomplishments as Secretary of Justice as reported by media in the past were substituted with the fantastic stories of drug convicts, individuals who by law are not even qualified to turn state witness for having committed crimes involving moral turpitude, and who could not even be accepted into the government’s witness protection program for the same reason.
This is the story of the erstwhile heroine turned heel, all by a stroke of misfortune, when the mayor the heroine hounded for the DDS killings was elected to the presidency. Now as senator, De Lima still dared to take the President to task for his policy on the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug pushers and users.
President Duterte would have none of that. De Lima was arrested last February 24 for trading in illegal drugs, while the same criminal convicts who stood witness against her were cleared from inclusion in the criminal information on the ground that they have been granted immunity during the House hearing, and despite the fact that their testimonies are worthless since they could not even qualify as state witnesses.
From feisty justice secretary who broke up and significantly reduced the Bilibid drug syndicate, to Bilibid drug queen and drug lord-coddler. This is the fantastic tale woven into the DOJ Joint Resolution that is the basis for the 3 informations subject of the criminal indictment filed with the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa.
It does not take much to see through this grand deception propagated in social media, and taken hook, line, and sinker by the DOJ panel of prosecutors – public officials whose very livelihood and professional advancement depend on their secretary and their president, who in turn, already adjudged De Lima, from the very beginning of the President’s war against her, to be guilty of the crimes charged in the 3 informations.
The most important issue in the filing of criminal cases against De Lima is not probable cause (i.e., whether or not it is most likely that she has committed the crimes as alleged), but due process – in having been already found guilty by the secretary of justice and the President even before any criminal complaint was filed and a preliminary investigation conducted by the proper officials of the Ombudsman as required under the Rules of Court and the laws on jurisdiction.
The DOJ preliminary investigation and resolution finding probable cause was a mere formality and a foregone conclusion, and made without any authority under law, as De Lima’s guilt had already been prejudged by Secretary Aguirre and the President months before any formal investigation on the charges was ever conducted.
The DOJ, without any authority to file cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan for crimes committed by public officials with Salary Grade 27 and above in relation to their office, proceeded to do so before a court of general jurisdiction, in total violation of all legal principles and all laws on jurisdiction.
Simply put, the charges against De Lima were railroaded by the offices under the President, since a preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman was not under his control, and would have resulted in the Ombudsman’s reluctance to use criminal convicts as state witnesses against De Lima.
In the end, the merits of the criminal indictment against De Lima will be based solely on the informations filed and the supporting DOJ resolution and testimonies attached to them.
View of the forest
De Lima has already questioned before the Supreme Court these Informations and the warrant of arrest issued by Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa RTC. For one, as claimed by De Lima in her petition to the Supreme Court, it is highly doubtful that an information for drug trafficking can prosper, if it does not even identify the name and classification of the drugs allegedly traded, much less the quantity.
Dangerous drugs are identified by name in the schedules of illegal substances enumerated in RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. A criminal court cannot presume that a substance traded is a dangerous drug by mere general allegation, without any identification of the specific drug involved, and evidence of the corpus delicti, i.e., the illegal drug itself that was traded and trafficked.
All these technicalities on procedure and jurisdiction of course will certainly help the Court decide on whether or not the criminal informations against De Lima can stand the test of judicial scrutiny.
But hopefully, the trees will not obfuscate the Court’s view of the forest, that behind De Lima’s prosecution is a persecution that started one cloudy day in March 2009, when a feisty lady from the imperial center came down to the southern city of Davao to challenge the city’s de facto ruler and the bloody reign of a death squad that bore his city’s name.
Now that the ruler of the southern city, in a reversal of fortunes, is the president of the same imperial center from where the feisty lady came and the High Court sits in judgment, we will be witnesses to the disposition of a landmark case, so-called not because of the novel question of law that it presents, but the political watershed that it symbolizes – of whether or not the imperial center of Manila will also finally proclaim Rodrigo Roa Duterte as its first true king and absolute ruler.
In my view, such an ending will be tragic not only for De Lima and Lascañas but even for Duterte, whose presidency will fail if it is unbounded by limitations; but most of all, it would be the end of democracy in the Philippines.
The Supreme Court will see clearly that Duterte, De Lima, and Lascañas do not love each other, but surely love for this country and for the rule of law will make the Court decide the case in the right way. – Rappler.com