THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DOJ) does not have enough evidence yet to file criminal charges against Sen. Leila de Lima, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd admitted before a House inquiry on Wednesday.
Aguirre made the admission when he was quizzed by Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers on whether the testimonies of the inmates and other witnesses were enough to indict de Lima.
“If we talk of chain of command, that’s administrative liability. As for criminal responsibility under [the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act]…we are building the case because all we are going by so far are testimonial evidence and few documents,” Aguirre told the House Committee on Justice on the second day of a probe into the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
On Monday, convicts Herbert Colanggo and Rodolfo Magleo claimed de Lima received as much as P70 million in payoffs from drugs, which allowed inmates to smuggle drugs, prostitutes, beer, golf carts and concert equipment, among others, into the Bilibid in Muntinlupa City.
“Please bear with us. We are looking at an account amounting to billions. The [Anti-Money Laundering Council] will release its report this afternoon. We want to have an airtight case,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre, however, claimed Magalong’s testimony on Wednesday, in which the latter alleged that then Justice Secretary de Lima put off a raid on the cells of inmates and Bilibid gang leaders Colanggo and Jaybee Sebastian, would boost the Duterte administration’s case against the senator.
“After Magalong’s testimony, the strength of our evidence more than doubled,” Aguirre said.
Magalong said it was the Criminal Investigation and Detention Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police that initially planned the raid on Bilibid, called Oplan “Cronus.”
But a different operation was conducted at the Bilibid on December 15, 2014, without the CIDG’s participation.
The Justice department, the Bureau of Corrections, the National Bureau of Investigation and select police units conducted the raid.
“In few occasions that we (Magalong and de Lima) met, I was asking her, ‘Ma’am, what do we do with our operation.’ If nobody will stand up for it, I am willing to be the ground commander,” Magalong told the House justice panel.
“She said to me, ‘Just wait, Benjie, just wait,’” Magalong narrated.
Aguirre also addressed claims by de Lima and critics that the witnesses he had assembled against the senator were coerced.
He said the inmates were credible and their testimonies would be vital in filing charges against de Lima, former Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd, and former de Lima aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez, among others.
“The credibility of these witnesses are not compromised because of the crime they committed in the past. I have been a litigator for 44 years, and in 10 minutes, I can tell if the witness is lying,” Aguirre said in a news conference.
“You have seen the demeanor of the witnesses. They are relaxed,” Aguirre added.
File charges, lawmakers urge
Despite the lack of solid proof, minority lawmakers urged Aguirre to file charges against de Lima. They also called on de Lima to quit.
“The DOJ in particular, or any Filipino for that matter concerned with the problem that we find ourselves in, [can]file the necessary charges,” Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Atienza said the country was in the middle of a serious situation, and the filing of charges should not be prolonged.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez of Quezon said his bloc will make sure during budget deliberations that the DOJ will file cases against de Lima.
“We will not allow that she will not face charges,” Suarez added.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque reiterated his call for de Lima’s resignation, saying her stay would only taint the reputation of Congress.
“It’s not just one or two witnesses who positively said that they gave money to her,” Roque said in Filipino.
“It’s not the convicts. It’s the officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), there is a presumption of regularity in the performance of their function. There is no doubt in my mind that Leila de Lima violated the law,” Roque added.
He was referring to de Lima’s former subordinates at the NBI, Rafael Ragos and Jovencio Ablen Jr., who claimed they delivered millions of pesos in drug money to de Lima at her house in Parañaque City in 2012.