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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

House panel: No evidence vs de Lima

DESPITE claims that “all roads lead to [Senator Leila] de Lima” in its investigation into the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary, the House committee on justice will not recommend charges against her, as some members of the panel said they did not have direct evidence to tag her as the leader of the drug matrix exposed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Instead, the committee found the need to reimpose the death penalty and to legalize wire-tapping in cases involving illegal drugs.

Panel chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said Sunday a committee report would be presented to the 55-member panel Monday for approval after four hearings, where 22 witnesses, mostly drug lords, had testified, along with nine resource persons from various institutions, for a total of 47 hours.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali

In an interview over radio dzBB Sunday, Umali said the panel would not recommend the filing of charges against De Lima but would recommend that authorities pursue the drug probe and determine the culpability of public officials involved in the proliferation of the illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice secretary.

De Lima was accused of being behind the proliferation of illegal drugs at the maximum security compound of the national penitentiary by giving protection to the operations of select drug lords and other inmates.

“The panel has no case. It has a weak case versus Senator De Lima,” panel member Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat told the Manila Standard. 

“Because all the evidence they can come out with in the hearing all came from hurried testimonies of criminals without a cause except self preservation,” Baguilat said.

“The panel should not have allowed itself to be used as a forum for a shame and vilification campaign against the lady senator,” said panel member Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who described the House probe as “vaudeville.”

On Monday, Umali said the panel would approve its report that he will sponsor and defend it in the plenary for the approval of 293-member House of Representatives before Congress goes on recess this week.

“We’re almost ready to submit our report to the committee tomorrow [Monday] for deliberation and approval. [We hope] within the week, before we close and go on a break, we would have gotten the approval also of the plenary,” Umali told dzBB.

Umali said the panel found that drug syndicates thrived inside the national penitentiary during de Lima’s stint as secretary of the Department of Justice. In fact, some drug lords testified that they had sold drugs to raise campaign funds for De Lima’s senatorial campaign.

“You have heard everything on national television. The public saw what happened and heard the witnesses. So I believe the public already knew what our findings are,” said Umali, who was careful not to disclose details of the findings before the panel members had signed the committee report.

Umali said he agreed with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who said his committee should not recommend the prosecution of any individual because it was focused on drafting laws or amendments.

Alvarez had initiated the congressional inquiry through a House resolution.

“I agree with the Speaker that since this probe is in aid of legislation, that we focus more on the legislation. After all, a case has already been filed against De Lima and other officials,” said Umali, referring to the drug trafficking charges filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption against De Lima and seven other people.

“It will be unfair that we make recommendations on the filing of charges since we have not gone deeper into the culpability of each official or who was responsible for the drug trade at the maximum security compound in the national penitentiary,” Umali said. 

With clear involvement of former NBP officials in the drug trade, Umali said his panel would also recommend to Congress the reimposition of the death penalty as being advocated by Duterte.

“The revelations in this committee hearings made it more imperative for us to, at this point, reimpose death penalty. Why? Because the four pillars of the criminal justice system are failing the people,” Umali said.

“If the criminal is serving a life sentence, what more do they have to fear?” he said in Filipino. “So you have to raise the level of fear… among these convicted felons.”

Umali said the panel would also recommend wiretapping by amending Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law and the suspension of RA 1405 or the Bank Secrecy Law against inmates and those who may have been involved in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country.

He also said his committee will also recommend amending the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013 after the law which was designed to enable government to upgrade prison facilities, professionalize the bureau and increase the salary and benefits of its personnel did not work.

Umali vowed to reopen the probe should the alleged lover and former driver-bodyguard of De Lima, Ronnie Dayan, appear after his panel cited him in contempt and ordered his arrest.

Dayan is still in hiding.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said De Lima would get due process despite the testimony from convicted felons linking her to the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary. 

“I am not using my office or abusing my power to persecute her,” Aguirre said in an interview.

The fact-finding investigation into De Lima’s alleged involvement and the conduct of a preliminary investigation into drug charges against her were all procedural matters required of his office, Aguirre said.

Aguirre said De Lima, his predecessor, should be very aware of such powers that she herself applied during her tenure as head of the department during the previous administration.

The DoJ chief said senator is only experiencing now what she had done to other politicians during her stint in the DoJ. With Rey E. Requejo

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