‘All roads lead to Leila’
THE House committee on justice has found that “all roads led to Leila de Lima” as a recipient of some P65 million from bickering drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison to fund her senatorial campaign, and as a protector of the thriving drug trade inside the national penitentiary.
These findings will be contained in the panel report to be submitted to the plenary for appropriate action, said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, committee chairman.
De Lima’s Liberal Party, a minority in the House, disputed the findings.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said he did not participate in the justice committee hearings because the results were pre-determined to find De Lima guilty of benefiting from the illegal drug trade in the NBP.
“Why then should I attend and participate in an obvious and odious vaudeville?” Lagman said.
The House probe stemmed from a resolution filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, calling for a probe into the proliferation of drugs in the NBP during De Lima’s watch.
During the hearings, drug lord Jaybee Sebastian claimed he had given De Lima a total of P10 million in drug money for her senatorial bid.
Sebastian’s bitter rival Herbert Colanggo testified that he, too, gave De Lima a monthly P3 million “PR [campaign] payola” from drug sales that his talent manager summed up to “more or less P45 million.”
Colanggo said De Lima also received a P1-million kickback from his P3-million income from the concerts he was holding and the booze he was smuggling inside the prison that happened every weekend.
Former Bureau of Corrections chief and now National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Rafael Ragos also testified he had delivered P5 million twice to De Lima at her house and that the drug money came from Chinese drug lord Peter Co.
Ragos said he had turned over the money to her trusted driver-bodyguard and alleged lover, Ronnie Dayan, in De Lima’s presence.
At some point, Sebastian said it was De Lima who received the P2 million he had given because her trusted security aide Joenel Sanchez was not around at the time the money was collected.
Umali found drug lords Sebastian and Colanggo and other high value inmates pointing to De Lima, through her bagmen Dayan and Sanchez, as having ordered the drug syndicates to raise funds for her senatorial campaign.
All of the inmates who testified corroborated one another’s sworn affidavit and testimony that De Lima was aware the funds given to her were proceeds from the illegal drug trade inside and outside of the NBP maximum security compound.
The members of the LP-Minority wing–Lagman, Caloocan Rep. Edgardo Erice and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat said even as members of the panel, they chose not to participate because the hearings were a “foregone conclusion,” that they were politically motivated and that De Lima would be found guilty of the allegations.
Lagman insisted the panel has no jurisdiction in finding De Lima culpable of the proliferation of drugs at the NBP.
But Umali said the testimony against De Lima had gone uncontested.
“At this point, we have heard all of the witnesses said that there are different ways to get there but all roads led to Senator Leila de Lima and that is the problem because all of these testimonies remain… uncontroverted. All of this would only say one thing and that is, all roads led to Leila de Lima. Unfortunately, she did not participate and so [the testimony against her] remains uncontroverted,” Umali said in a television interview.
While the inmates were under the control of the Justice Department, there can be no better witness on the proliferation of illegal drugs because they had “personal knowledge” about what occurred in the prison, Umali said.
“I don’t want to down play their credibility,” he added.
Umali also noted that Sebastian was a witness suggested by De Lima herself, and said his testimony remained consistent.
“He did not budge. He said the same story. And he is not even referring to his notes. So in terms of credibility, he ranks high. As a trial lawyer, as a litigator, to me, he would rank high. Well, as I said he was straightforward,” Umali said.
The Liberal Party’s Erice said he did not not join the hearings because they were “garbage.”
“It’s a propaganda tool to cover up the investigation on the extrajudicial killings,” said Erice, referring to the Senate probe initiated by De Lima that earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Baguilat said he believes everything was a “publicity stunt” and to intimidate critics of the President’s war on drugs.
“Their goal is to destroy De Lima. That’s the only goal of this committee,” Erice said.
“They succeeded in ousting De Lima as Senate justice committee chairman and now they suspended the hearing. Of course it has a chilling effect on us definitely,” Erice added.
Umali said the House probe would resume once Dayan was found, after the panel cited him in contempt and issued an order for his arrest to compel his attendance to the hearing.
Lagman said it was not necessary to investigate the existence of a drug enterprise in the NBP because this has been previously validated and raids were even conducted.
It was an open secret and the only thing lacking is the prosecution of the culpable convicts, he added.
“The secretary of Justice brought in witnesses like inmates and officials of the NBI who are under his jurisdiction because the Bureau of Corrections and the NBI are both attached agencies to the Department of Justice,” Lagman said.
He also pointed out that many of the witnesses were assisted by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office, which is another agency under the secretary of Justice.
The active participation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, in introducing his witnesses and propounding questions to them violated the rules of the House on legislative inquiries in aid of legislation, which limit the role of resource persons, like the secretary of Justice, to making their statements and answer questions from the committee chairman and members.
“Any eventual prosecution arising from the inquiry will be submitted to the secretary of Justice and investigated by the prosecutors under him to determine probable cause. Consequently, the secretary of Justice is both inquisitor and judge,” Lagman said.
Aguirre on Wednesday said his department is ready to conduct a preliminary investigation into a complaint filed against De Lima and seven others for their alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the NBP.
Aguirre disputed De Lima’s argument that the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruptions should have filed their case against her before the Office of the Ombudsman instead of the Justice Department.
“The DOJ has concurrent jurisdiction with the Ombudsman to hear in preliminary investigation cases filed against government officials that are cognizable by the Sandiganbayan,” the Justice secretary said, in an interview.
“Since the DOJ was chosen by the complainants, DOJ has no alternative but to conduct a preliminary investigation,” he added.
Nonetheless, Aguirre said prosecutors would be fair in resolving the criminal charges against his predecessor in the department and seven others—just as the DOJ handled pork barrel scam cases during De Lima’s time.
Under De Lima as secretary in the previous administration, the DOJ conducted investigation on the Priority Development Assistance Fund cases against incumbent lawmakers and forwarded its findings to the Ombudsman, which also conducted its own probe.
Ferdinand Topacio, lawyer of VACC in this case, agreed with Aguirre.
Topacio said the move of De Lima to question DOJ’s jurisdiction on their complaint “shows her desperation and her lack of knowledge of legal processes.”
Topacio, also lawyer of high-profile inmates led by Colanggo who testified against De Lima in the House of Representatives inquiry, cited the 2004 decision of the Supreme Court which gave the DOJ concurrent jurisdiction with the Ombudsman on cases against public officials involving violations of penal laws.
According to him, the senator cannot invoke a 2012 memorandum of agreement between the DOJ and Ombudsman in which the DOJ bargained away its jurisdiction over specific criminal complaints.
Topacio said the agreement forged by De Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales was illegal and meant “to protect political allies of the former administration by restricting the jurisdiction of the DOJ and transferring it exclusively to the Office of the Ombudsman.”
Also on Wednesday, NBI Director Dante Gierra said the alleged nephew and security aide of De Lima has denied allegations that he was involved in the illegal drug trade.
According to Gierran, Jose Adrian Dera alias Jad De Vera voluntarily went to the NBI last Monday to give his side, denying all the allegations, GMA News Online reported. With Sandy Araneta