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House divided over Leila’s fate

Minority demands filing of criminal raps

THE House committee on justice on Monday remained divided over whether there was enough evidence to recommend charges be filed against Senator Leila de Lima for her alleged role in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison  when she was Justice secretary.

The disagreement among members of the panel, chaired by Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali, meant they were unable to approve the committee report on their findings after four congressional hearings.

During the day-long executive session, the committee failed to agree on De Lima’s culpability, prompting Umali to suspend the closed-door meeting. Members belonging to the House minority bloc vowed to urge the plenary to overturn the panel’s position if they did not recommend filing criminal charges against De Lima.

Senator Leila de Lima

Umali said the executive session would continue Tuesday so the committee members could vote on the report and send it on to the plenary for approval.

“We dissented. We reject the panel’s position. We believe there is enough evidence to warrant the recommendation of the filing of criminal charges against De Lima and her cohorts,” said House Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez. “We will bring it to the plenary that the House of Representatives recommend the filing of criminal charges against De Lima and those responsible behind the proliferation of illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.”

“I dissent from the proposed justice committee report on the investigation of the proliferation of illegal drugs in the NBP. I believe that the committee should include a recommendation [to file] criminal charges against Senator Leila de Lima,” said House Deputy Minority Leader Harry Roque.

The two opposition lawmakers also said it was clear that laws had been violated.

But Umali said that the panel, upon the advice of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, would not recommend the filing of charges against De Lima because the panel did not conduct a full-blown investigation.

De Lima’s allies in the House, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, said this decision showed that the committee had a weak case against the senator.

On the other hand, Umali argued it was not the panel’s function to determine De Lima’s guilt.

He added that there were other accomplices, other culpable government employees like the jail guards that the panel no longer covered in its probe.

“So, we would rather that [the Justice Department] do a complete preliminary investigation so they can charge everyone, rather than us telling them that you charge this [person] and then forget about the others. So it is doing complete staff work. Congress has no capability, we do not have the NBI, we do not have the CIDG, we do not have intelligence people to dig deeper into the involvement of any and all of those who may have violated the laws of the country. So we would rather let our co-equal bodies or co-equal branches of government do their job,” Umali said.

Monday’s meeting was suspended after several lawmakers and members of the committee insisted that the panel recommend charges against De Lima.

Suarez said his group will issue a dissenting opinion, and expressed disappointment at the panel’s unwillingness to recommend criminal charges.

“Why the committee is evading recommendation to pursue criminal prosecution against Senator De Lima? All testimonies are pointing to her and now the committee is quiet on her culpability,” Suarez said.

“The minority bloc will issue a dissenting opinion. We cannot afford a report like this,” Suarez said.

The House justice panel held almost seven-hour executive session to discuss the committee report.  It has scheduled voting on the report Tuesday morning.

Umali, a Liberal Party (LP) stalwart, denied that the voting did not push through simply because of pressures exerted by Suarez’s group.

“That is not true [Suarez’s group opposition]. We are just tired and the committee report needs some refinements. That is why we decided to reset the voting tomorrow (Tuesday) after discussing the report in an executive session,” said Umali.

Umali earlier said his panel would not recommend the filing of criminal charges against De Lima, also an LP member.

“We are not judges and we are not all lawyers in the committee and this is a collective decision of the committee, not just mine decision,” said Umali.

Umali said, “Legislative measures that are expected of us because this is a congressional inquiry in aid of legislation.”

“...The matter of prosecution is really an executive function... And since the case has already been filed, what is there for us to recommend has been filed already,” Umali said.

De Lima said Monday that if the panel does not recommend criminal charges against her, then its real objective in holding hearings was to villify her.

But De Lima also said it was difficult to comment on the case at this point because no committee report has been approved.

“Of course, it’s good,” she said when asked about the possibility that the committee report would not include a recommendation that she be charged.

She said the focus of the House investigation was not the problems of the state penitentiary, but on her.

“But what’s the whole point of the inquiry--only to shame me,” she said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, meanwhile, said her office is not inclined to conduct an investigation on its own into allegations of De Lima’s involvement in the drug trade in the NBP.

“It is not going to happen,” she said. “Because all [these] are just allegations. There is actually no lead yet that would prompt us to initiate our investigation,” she added.

She said, however, that the Ombudsman in the Visayas has received a complaint filed against De Lima for allegedly receiving drug money from Kerwin Espinosa, a suspected drug lord.

Morales said Espinido’s complaint will be submitted to the Ombudsman central office after a fact-finding investigation is completed by the Ombudsman in the Visayas.

Earlier, Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption filed a criminal complaint with the Justice Department against De Lima for violating anti-drug laws.

Morales said she would welcome it if the Justice Department sought the Ombudsman’s help to step into the complaint of the VACC.

“If it’s necessary and if they (DOJ) believe there is reason to conduct further investigation or for us to conduct a preliminary investigation, then the case will come to us,” she said.

“When the case comes to us and if we believe the fact-finding investigation is exhaustive enough to merit our preliminary investigation if there is any crime committed, then we will follow through with it,” Morales said. With Rio N. Araja

Topics: Senator Leila de Lima , House committee on justice , Proliferation of illegal drugs in New Bilibid Prison , Rep. Reynaldo Umali
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