ANTI-crime advocates on Saturday expressed outrage over the travel clearance issued to Sen. Leila de Lima, claiming the lawmaker, who is accused of pocketing money from drug syndicates, could seek asylum to escape prosecution.
Dante Jimenez, founding chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), said he would ask President Rodrigo Duterte to block de Lima’s plan to travel to the United States and Germany this week.
“We suspect she will either seek asylum or hide for allegedly being ‘persecuted’ … We victims of illegal drug trafficking urge her to clear her name first from these charges before going out of the country,” Jimenez told The Manila Times.
The Justice department gave de Lima the go signal to travel to the United States to accept an award and to Germany to speak before the Annual Conference on Cultural Diplomacy. The Philippines has an extradition treaty with the US, but not with Germany.
In a statement, de Lima said there was “nothing to worry about as I will surely return, along with my staff who will be with me during these foreign visits.”
“I hope my brief absence would provide a welcome relief and respite to my detractors and critics. I will keep them in mind though,” she said.
The lawmaker, who had been accused by prison inmates of accepting protection money when she was secretary of Justice in the previous administration, said the US and Germany trips were “very important to me because as a senator, I will have a chance to speak before influential world leaders and global thinkers on raising awareness and support for human rights, an advocacy I am passionate about.”
“This is a great opportunity to meet leaders from various fields from around the world and learn from their respective government’s initiatives and challenges about cultural diplomacy,” she added.
Bar the doors
But Jimenez urged authorities to guard all exit doors.
“VACC condemns allowing de Lima to leave because of various complaints under investigation like illegal drug trading in violation of [the Dangerous Drugs Act]and for snubbing various hearings of House of Representatives and the Department of Justice,” Jimenez said.
It was the VACC that filed drug trafficking complaints with the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman against de Lima and seven other personalities allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.
The seven others were former Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd, former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu, de Lima’s former security aides Ronnie Dayan, Joenel Sanchez and Jose Adrian Dera, Bucayu’s alleged bagman Wilfredo Ely, and high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian.
VACC had also filed a disbarment case against de Lima before the Supreme Court.
De Lima earlier said she had no plans to leave the country after the Justice department issued an immigration lookout bulletin order on her and her alleged cohorts in October.
Palace hands off
Malacañang took a hands-off stance on de Lima’s travel plans on Saturday.
In a radio interview, Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag said the Palace would leave Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd to answer questions about de Lima.
“Well, we have to ask DOJ Secretary Aguirre because they do have jurisdiction over the case filed against Secretary de Lima,” Banaag told government-run radio station DZRB.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE