SENATOR Leila de Lima’s “stormy” adulterous affair with her driver-security aide Ronnie Dayan could ultimately lead to her disbarment. To my mind, this is the worst legal action that she could face. I don’t think any ethics case based on their romance would prosper in the Senate. Neither would a case linking her to the trade of illegal drugs at the National BilibidPrisons bestrong enough to hold in court
But it should be quite easy to prove the decadent relationship between De Lima and Dayan before the Philippine Bar Association which hears disbarment cases, and before the Supreme Court which reviews PBA decisions on suc cases. De Lima admitted to her affair with Dayan in an interview with “Mareng Winnie,” blaming it on “the frailties of a woman.” As the saying goes, a fish is caught in its mouth. That admission should be acceptable as evidence in a disbarment case should one be filed against her.
In his testimony made under oath before the House committee on justice, Dayan confirmed carrying out a seven-year affair with De Lima. In a statement that brought the committee and the audience down, Dayan likened their affair to Typhoon Signal No. 5 at its height. He said that it was a mere “Signal No. 1” in January 2015 when he felt that she had dumped him in favor of another close-in security. Search me why he didn’t use the Richter magnitude scale to measure the intensity of their affair. That would have been more appropriate, but I wouldn’t substitute my judgment for his.
Thursday’s justice committee hearing led by Rep. Reynaldo Umali was supposed to be a resumption of its probe into the drug trade inside the NBP. But, save for a few, most of the questions asked focused on the love affair of De Lima and Dayan, so that the proceedings looked more like a festival of voyeurism than in aid of legislation. And, boy, did the congressmen uncover a lot of juicy details about the seven-year affair!
Dayan said their affair started two or three months after he started working for De Lima in 2015, with her fully aware that he was a married man. He compared their fledgling relationship to Typhoon Signal No. 2. He testified that she gave him money to build a house in Pangasinan. He also said his wife and children were aware of his affair with De Lima and had come to accept it as an accomplished fact. Oh yes, asked how he called De Lima, he replied “love.”
While the congressmen got from Dayan a lot of details about his extracurricular activities, they got virtually
nothing about the charges that he was De Lima’s bagman for payola/protection money from drug lords at the NBP and from Kerwin Espinosa, the recently captured suspected drug lord of Eastern Visayas. Many were incredulous that he had never known the gang leaders at the NBP who testified that they coursed the payola through him. They were convinced on the love affair angle but not on his consistent denial of receiving drug money or any bribe from persons seeking favors from De Lima.
So, after a number of sensational/sensationalized hearings at the House and the Senate, De Lima’s disbarment appears to be the worst legal consequence of her dalliance with her former lover cum driver-security aide. She might turn out to be the highest government official ever to be stricken off the roll of lawyers. This is a real possibility, considering that the Supreme Court recently affirmed the disbarment of NoliEala, the commissioner of the Philippine Basketball Association, for cohabiting with a married woman and abandoning his family.
No, this extra-marital affair cannot be used to seek De Lima’s expulsion from the Senate as it ended in 2015, or before the May 2016 election. Based on precedents, the Senate committee on ethics (yes, there’s such a panel in this chamber) will throw out any case involving a member’s actuations and behavior before his or her election as senator. A senator can only be held accountable for unethical behavior during his or her incumbency.
However, worse than her possible disbarment is De Lima’s inevitable fall from political grace. I’ve written in previous columns that it’s very difficult to commiserate with her, not after she used her authority as justice secretary to ignore a Supreme Court decision allowing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad and then filing unbailable charges against Arroyo that were later dismissed. Then, there’s De Lima’s role in the impeachment of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona and in unleashing Ruby Tuason on former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada for their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scandal. De Lima described Tuason’s testimony as a “slam dunk,” and proceeded to give her immunity from suit.
The practice of granting immunity to participants in a criminal activity in exchange for their testimony should end. Tuason, for instance, wasn’t investigated for her alleged role in the misuse of the billion-peso Malampaya Fund after she became a “whistleblower.” This grant of immunity in exchange for testimony is the easy way out for lazy or incompetent investigators and prosecutors. Worse, it allows criminals to escape accountability.
Instead of granting outright immunity, why don’t prosecutors forge a plea-bargain agreement with suspects where they can get a lower penalty if they come clean? Of course, this would make investigators and prosecutors work harder to file an airtight case. Or, is this asking too much of them?