SENATORS on Monday voted 16-4 to oust beleaguered Senator Leila de Lima as chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, which was investigating the rise in summary executions of drug suspects since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.
The 16 senators led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III declared Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson as chairman and vice chairman of the committee.
“It’s a numbers game and it’s a political move,” De Lima said in a television interview after her ouster. “All I know is the President is behind this.”
Only four senators voted against the motion to remove De Lima, namely Liberal Party colleagague Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino, and Francis Pangilinan.
De Lima was ousted as committee chairman after she walked out of the session hall during a privilege speech by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who accused her of destroying the integrity and reputation of the Senate and damaging the image of the country and the people worldwide.
“I cannot stand it so I’m going to deliver a privilege speech tomorrow instead of confronting him. What is destroying the reputation of this country are the killings. It’s not me,” said De Lima after she stormed out of the session hall.
After Cayetano’s speech, Senator Manny Pacquiao moved to declare the chairmanship and the membership of the committee vacant.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III immediately called for a one-minute break but Drilon asked to be recognized first.
“Just to point out that under the rules, you can’t declare as vacant the chairmanship of a committee. There’s no rule that allows that,” Drilon said.
Hontiveros seconded Drilon.
But Pacquiao reiterated his motion, prompting Pimentel to suspend the session.
Cayetano, the losing running mate of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte in the May 9 elections, accused De Lima of using her committee “to go out after the President.”
“She is using the committee, not for fact finding on extrajudicial killings but to go after the President,” he said.
Cayetano delivered his privilege speech after De Lima presented witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman, who said Duterte had given the orders to kill hundreds of drug suspects when he was still mayor of Davao City.
At the hearing, senators belonging to Liberal Party and members of the committee led by Antonio Trillanes IV ganged up Cayetano, who questioned Matobato’s credibility.
De Lima was earlier accused by President Duterte of taking money from drug lords to finance her Senate election campaign.
A staunch ally of Duterte on Monday slammed De Lima’s attack on the President.
In a privilege speech, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the Senate’s ongoing probe of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration was obviously aimed at weakening the President’s “change” agenda.
“The weapon used was a false witness. The platform from which the assault was mounted is a Senate investigation supposedly in aid of legislation,” Nograles said in his speech.
“The assault on the dignity and reputation of the sitting President of the Republic has only one ultimate objective --to destroy public trust and confidence in the President. So I ask Mr. Speaker--what is behind this assault on the dignity and reputation of the President? Is the groundwork being laid for something sinister?” he said.
Nograles said a coordinated attack on the presidency appears to have been launched from within and from without, even as he called on the Filipino people to stand by the President’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
“Lies are being piled one after another to waylay the President’s change agenda and stop the momentum for radical reform towards making government work as it should work for the people,” Nograles said.
“At stake is not simply the success of the war against illegal drugs or the agenda for reform of the Duterte Administration. At stake, in real terms, is not even the presidency--it is the stability and survival of our republic,” he said.
Nograles said De Lima used the Senate as platform to discredit the President by coming out with a ‘surprise’ witness during its probe last Sept. 16.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday urged his fellow senators to forgo hearing the testimony of Matobato, saying the hitman admitted he had no personal knowledge about the extrajudicial killings committed during the term of President Duterte.
Gatchalian issued his appeal after De Lima said she planned to call Matobato again to the next hearing of the committee on justice.
Earlier, Pimentel denied protective custody for Matobato because his testimony was not relevant to the resolution being investigated. With Maricel V. Cruz
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