Leila de Lima is under investigation for her alleged links to the illegal drug trade, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday, as the neophyte lawmaker hit back at officials of the Duterte administration for carrying out a “demolition job” against her.
In a news conference, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said the ongoing probe covered the top to the bottom ranks of the previous DOJ, which de Lima headed before running for senator.
“All the DOJ officials of the past administration will be included,” Aguirre told reporters.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is conducting the probe against the DOJ officials, particularly two former officials tagged as coddlers of drug lords inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, Aguirre said.
In a privilege speech, de Lima denied accusations of coddling drug lords, and claimed she was being smeared by government officials as well as by media strategists through “memes” on social media.
De Lima likened her situation to the victims of “cardboard justice” or summary killings, saying the public tended to believe memes just like they tended to believe what was written on cardboards left on top of drug suspects executed by vigilantes.
“I cannot stay silent in the face of all these blatant lies created in the backroom of a media strategy office suite. I will not fall without a fight,” she said.
De Lima also condemned what she called the “do-it- yourself” justice system being carried out under the campaign against illegal drugs of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, which has claimed hundreds of lives.
She expressed doubts on claims by police that all of the drug suspects killed during police operations had resisted arrest.
The neophyte senator added that her concern was not only about the killings recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) as a result of anti-illegal drug operations, but also those by vigilantes who have been operating all over the country.
De Lima made it clear that she was not against the administration’s drive against drugs, but said killings should not be allowed to go on as these would lead to “impunity.”
“In the campaign against criminality, we cannot applaud criminal methods merely because we are left unaffected. Life has more value than an accusation written on a piece of cardboard whether you are rich or a scum of the earth. Needless to say, all lives matter,” she said.
The former justice secretary said the sheer number of deaths by extrajudicial killings seems to numb people desperate to weed out the ill effects of the illegal drug trade on Filipino families, especially among the youth.
Vigilantes were able to introduce to the people “a kind of do-it-yourself justice that disregards the public prosecutor, the courts and judges and requiring only a cardboard, acrylic marker, a packaging and something so stab and shoot the victim,” she claimed.
“We have to continue opposing the murder of the innocents as well as that of the suspects.
We must call for the accountability of state actors responsible for this terrifying trend in law enforcement, and the investigation of killings perpetrated by the vigilante assassins,” she said in her speech.
De Lima declined to be interpellated, prompting Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who ran for vice president under Duterte but lost, to deliver his own privilege speech.
Cayetano said that while he agreed with de Lima’s views against summary executions carried out by vigilantes, the former Justice chief should not jump into conclusions that policemen were involved in extralegal killings.
There should be a presumption of regularity on the conduct of police operations, similar to the presumption of innocence for suspected drug personalities that de Lima has been insisting on observing, Cayetano said.
Cayetano said the number of drug pushers being killed in police operations was not that big to be able to stop illegal drugs.