De Lima vows to carry on with probe into extrajudicial killings
AN EMOTIONAL Sen. Leila de Lima faced the media on Thursday and appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to give her a level field and a chance to defend herself from his latest attacks.
De Lima, in a prepared statement, complained that she was on unequal footing with Duterte, as she accused the President of unprecedented “abuse and misuse of executive power” when he publicly linked her to illegal drug syndicates and revealed her alleged illicit love affair with her driver.
“I have always been loyal to my oath as a public servant. I’m not the enemy here. Stop portraying me as one,” de Lima said.
“You’re the President. I’m just a senator. An equal fight is all I want. I hope you give to me what has already been given by the law and the Constitution to anyone who is accused under our legal system,” de Lima said in Filipino.
The embattled lawmaker pointed out that Duterte, as President, cannot be sued in court.
“How does one defend oneself, when the attacker is immune from suit, and has all the backing of executive power to support him in his personal attack?” she asked.
“This is no less than abuse and misuse of executive power. I don’t think the Constitution has ever contemplated such abuse of power on such scale, as it assumes every President to conduct himself in a manner befitting the office he holds,” she added.
On Wednesday, Duterte blasted de Lima, a leading critic of his war against illegal drugs, calling her an “immoral woman.”
Duterte accused the lawmaker of having an affair with her driver, who also allegedly collected money from drug syndicates to finance her senatorial campaign.
De Lima called on Duterte to spare her family, friends and former colleagues from attacks because they had done nothing wrong.
“If you are bent on destroying me, please have a decency to spare my colleagues, friends and family. Wala po silang kasalanan [They did nothing wrong],” the senator said.
De Lima however said that if the President thinks his attacks will convince her to stop next week’s Senate investigation into the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of drug suspects, “he can try until he finally silences me or the Senate.”
De Lima also claimed that she knew of cases and “trumped-up evidence” being prepared by the Duterte administration against her, and expressed readiness to answer all allegations.
The senator appealed to the President to put an end to “scare tactics” and “ridicule” and help bring back order through the observance of the rule of law and respect for fellow human beings.
The day after Duterte’s tirade, however, a “sex video” and photos allegedly with de Lima in them made the rounds of the Justice department.
De Lima has repeatedly denied that she has a sex video.
Robredo backs de Lima
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo rushed to de Lima’s defense, urging the President to refrain from personal attacks.
“We are here to bring out the best in people. When we cheapen the discourse to personal attacks, we bring out the worst,” Robredo said in a statement.
The erstwhile ruling Liberal Party also stood by the beleaguered lawmaker as it called on Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, a key Duterte ally, to defend de Lima and ensure the Senate’s independence.
“Senator Leila de Lima is doing her job as a Senator of the Republic. She deserves support, not condemnation; respect, and not gutter language; she and our people deserve the facts, not innuendo,” the party said.
“[W]e call on the Senate President to uphold the independence of the Senate whose membership must always be vigorously supported as they fulfill the people’s mandate to make inquiries in aid of legislation,” it added.
Senator Richard Gordon however said the Senate should not interfere in the spat.
“That is her (de Lima’s) problem. It the first place it could be personal,” said Gordon. “Why should we take a position? What if there is evidence?” he asked.
For President Duterte’s allies, de Lima should not react violently.
“I believe everything can be settled amicably among these honorable public servants. She should just relax. It takes a lot of courage to do that. As government officials, I believe they will do the right thing,” Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said in an interview.
Rep. Magnolia Antonino of Nueva Ecija said de Lima should have known that personal attacks were par for the course in politics.
“We [public servants]will always be criticized. It comes with the job. It’s something that we have to deal with. Criticism is not something new to us lawmakers,” she said.
Former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo also weighed in on the controversy, getting back at de Lima, who was Justice secretary under the previous Aquino administration, for hounding him and his wife, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“Senator de Lima complained that what President Duterte did to her was ‘very foul.’ How about when you violated [President Arroyo’s] human rights by not allowing her to leave? You willfully disobeyed [the Supreme Court]. Wasn’t that ‘very foul’ also?” he said in a text message to reporters.
“How about when you said I escaped when I left for Hong Kong? You said flight is proof of guilt. Although the CCTV showed I went through the regular process, you never apologized. And I came back. Wasn’t that ‘very foul’ also?” he added.
“Now that the shoe is on the other foot, how does karma feel?”
Duterte: ‘Your life is an open book’
In Cotabato City on Thursday, the President showed no signs of backing down and told de Lima that as a public official, “your life is an open book.”
“It’s true, she was caught, imagine she took her oath to the public … taking in your driver as paramour?” he told reporters.
Duterte said it was not he, but de Lima who went overboard when she accused policemen of carrying out extra-judicial killings.
“Look, the police are dying, why is she speaking without evidence?” he said in Filipino.
Asked if he had a witness against the senator, Duterte answered: “Secret.”
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said de Lima should answer the President’s accusations.
“The question that the good senator should respond to is: Is the information given by President Duterte on her true or not? In her press conference she called she did not deny nor refute the information. Character assassination predicates the adverse information on the conduct of a person as being false,” Panelo said in a statement.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JOMAR CANLAS