Do the charges against De Lima make sense?
Singapore—Pundits lambasted the gobbledygook and incomprehensible words in the Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution recommending charges against Sen. Leila de Lima. But the bombastic language was on the first page only of a 52-page resolution. Before crying political persecution, one might refute the other 51 pages claiming De Lima enlisted inmates in the New Bilibid Prison, our main penitentiary, to sell drugs to finance her senatorial campaign.
De Lima surrendered last Friday, Feb. 24. Dramatically, she and the police serving a judge’s warrant of arrest spent the night at the Senate building.
I know that the police first went to her house that night. I have seen her mug shots.
I know that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre asked “Sino ang gusto niyong isunod? (Who do you want next?)” at a Luneta rally last Saturday. That De Lima reacted to her arrest: “The P-Noy admin never engaged in any act of harassment or of persecution.”
But why do we discuss everything but why a judge issued the warrant?
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported De Lima was “arrested on drug trafficking charges” and “accused of receiving money from detained drug lords.”
The New York Times reported: “She took bribes from imprisoned drug traffickers.”
When the DOJ resolution was released last Feb. 21, Inquirer judiciary reporter Tetch Torres Tupas did better by painstakingly photographing the 52 pages and uploading them to Inquirer.net.
Tupas highlighted that De Lima was charged under the Dangerous Drugs Act. De Lima argues she should be investigated by the Ombudsman, not the DOJ, and charged before the Sandiganbayan, not a trial court.
But the DOJ’s claimed basis exists.
The 2013 Supreme Court decision in Busuego vs Ombudsman Mindanao stated: “(the DOJ) is not precluded from conducting any investigation of cases against public officers… but if the cases fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the respondent Ombudsman may, in the exercise of its primary jurisdiction, take over at any stage.”
The Sandiganbayan has “exclusive original jurisdiction” over corruption charges involving public officials and charges “in relation to their office.” The Ombudsman investigates these.
The DOJ even cites a 2012 agreement between then Justice Secretary De Lima and the Ombudsman on this point.
Some claim the charges are based solely on the testimony of Bilibid inmates offered immunity from prosecution.
However, a key witness was Supt. Benjamin Magalong, director of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
In May 2014, he claims he proposed to De Lima that the CIDG raid Bilibid and neutralize the drug trade inside. He showed her photos of drug lords’ luxurious kubol. He learned in December that the raid proceeded without the CIDG.
Further, immunity was recommended by the House of Representatives, after inmates testified there.
But should charges be framed as corruption, not drug trafficking, charges?
The DOJ resolution claims that in February 2013, Commando gang leader Jaybee Sebastian asked other Bilibid leaders to, for protection, raise money for De Lima’s senatorial campaign by selling drugs inside and outside Bilibid. It alleges how De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan and other bagmen allegedly received sums of P50,000 to P5 million.
The resolution cites specific bank account numbers, alleged meetings between De Lima and payors, and how De Lima allegedly bought groceries for Dayan and Dayan kept lewd videos of her in his phone.
I would prefer to hear more concrete criticism of the charges than bad English and political vendetta.
We sorely need to elevate how we debate law. If all else fails, we should, like Tupas, upload key documents to empower citizens to fact-check lawyers.
There can be no genuine freedom of information when a Filipino can more easily find legal documents explaining why US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban was blocked by judges than the charges against De Lima.
Incidentally, my request filed at foi.gov.ph last Feb. 16 for the solicitor general’s recommendation that a court acquit Janet Napoles remains pending.
React: email@example.com, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.