AFTER hemming and hawing, the House Committee on Justice did not recommend the filing of charges against former Justice secretary Leila de Lima and prison officials over the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison that supposedly occurred under their watch.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the committee chairman, did not disclose the contents of the committee report issued after four days of inquiries, but the non-recommendation was revealed by the lone “no” vote of minority bloc member Alfredo Garbin of Ako Bicol party-list.
“There should be identification of definitive culpability of those accountable officers who are involved in the proliferation of drug trade in the Bilibid. The position of the minority is it is necessary to identify those officials and personalities,” Garbin said in explaining his vote.
“The recommendation … must arrive at the prosecution of the accountable officers. We find this conspicuously absent in the recommendation,” Garbin added.
Apart from Garbin, the rest of the House justice panel voted in favor of the committee report through viva voce.
Umali told reporters he could not disclose the report’s contents, invoking House rules that state that the content of a committee report cannot be made public before it is calendared in the order of business for plenary deliberation.
He only said: “We are ready to defend this [report]in the plenary.”
Garbin said the House minority bloc would submit a dissenting opinion.
Political analyst Alfred Sureta said de Lima was not yet off the hook following the Bilibid drug probe.
Sureta argued that the House justice panel’s findings won’t restrict the Justice department from filing charges against the senator.
“As far as the panel is concerned… if their findings stand on the belief that no charges will be filed, then they are correct. However, it does not prevent the Department of Justice from filing the same,” Sureta said.
‘Evidence points to de Lima’
In a draft copy of the committee report shown by a congressional source on Tuesday afternoon, the House justice panel said “all of the evidence point to [de Lima’s]involvement and possible accountability in these illegal activities.”
The panel, however, said “the determination of probable cause to support the filing of appropriate charges against her is a function of the Department of Justice and/or the Ombudsman” and thus, “the Committee leaves to the sound discretion of the Department of Justice and/or Ombudsman the determination of whether appropriate charges should be filed against her, noting that several complaints have already been filed against her by certain groups.”
A dozen inmates testified during the House inquiry, accusing de Lima of allowing the drug trade and other illegal activities such as prostitution and gambling at the Bilibid in exchange for payoffs that allegedly financed her Senate campaign.
Of those who testified against her, only two claimed to have given her money personally: Engelberto Durano and Jaybee Sebastian.
De Lima, who was Justice secretary from 2010 to 2015, has denied all accusations against her and claimed the government had pressured the inmates to testify against her.
De Lima is a leading critic of the summary killings linked to the President’s campaign against illegal drugs.
She led a probe into the drug-related killings but was booted out as Senate justice committee head by her colleagues, after she presented a witness who claimed Duterte had ordered about a thousand killings as mayor of Davao City.
Witnesses seeking pardon
An opposition lawmaker buttressed de Lima’s claim of government pressure on witnesses, saying that five of the 12 inmates who testified before the House inquiry have pending applications for pardon before the Office of the President.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, citing a letter from the Board of Pardons and Parole under the Department of Justice, said these inmates and their corresponding prison numbers were: Engelberto Durano (N206P-1899), Nonilo Arile (N200P-2649), Jaime Patio (N202P-2563), Jojo Baligad (N208P-0036) and Vicente Sy (N99P-3794).
“We should monitor these inmates closely. They could be freed anytime,” Alejano, a former marine captain, told reporters.
Umali said he did not want to preempt Malacañang, but noted that granting the witnesses clemency was “within the power of the President.”