THE Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) on Sunday lashed out at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Senate leadership for allowing Sen. Leila de Lima to travel abroad despite an ongoing probe into her alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
The VACC and other nongovernment organizations (NGOs), staged a small protest near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), accusing de Lima of blatantly disrespecting the legal system.
“We are condemning her decision to leave the country instead of facing the charges as mastermind in the illegal drug trading in the New Bilibid Prison,” VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez told The Manila Times.
De Lima, who is accused of accepting protection money from prison drug syndicates when she was Justice secretary in the previous administration, left the country on Sunday afternoon on an Emirates Air flight.
The Media Affairs Division of the Manila International Airport Authority said de Lima was bound for the United States to accept an award, and to Berlin, Germany to speak before a conference on cultural diplomacy.
Officials of the Bureau of Immigration, which is under the DOJ, let de Lima board the plane.
While de Lima was put on an immigration watch list in October, the DOJ allowed her to travel abroad because no formal charges have been filed against her.
The senator, who denies any involvement in the drug trade, earlier assured the public that she would return to the country. De Lima is expected to be back in Manila on December 22.
DOJ, House ignored
Jimenez on Sunday said the DOJ erred when it allowed de Lima to leave the country because she has public accountability.
De Lima, he pointed out, ignored different investigating bodies looking into her supposed involvement in the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary.
“She ignored the DOJ and the House Committee on Justice. She virtually dishonored these institutions, and in spite of that she was still allowed to leave,” Jimenez said.
The VACC founder also hit Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd for giving de Lima clearance to leave the country.
“We are questioning the Senate president because it is clear that he is more concerned with self-preservation than the interest of justice,” he claimed.
De Lima, he said, scheduled her return on December 22 despite knowing that the DOJ had issued a subpoena for her to attend a preliminary investigation on December 21.
The Manila Times tried to get de Lima’s side but the senator did not respond to messages.
A staff member of the senator who asked not to be named insisted that de Lima was able to secure all necessary clearance documents for her travel.
“Senator de Lima repeatedly said she will face all charges in the proper court,” the staff member added.