The issue of illegal drugs has become a mud-slinging contest. In the House of Representatives, five convicted felons were paraded as witnesses against former Justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima. It was supposed to be a hearing conducted by a House panel but Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguiree did most of the direct questioning of the convicted witnesses and guided them through what seemed like a pre-conceived script on how to inflict the most damage to De Lima.
But in the end, to those of us watching the House proceedings on live TV coverage, nothing much was proven from the surfeit of hearsays from the high-value but low-credibility witnesses presented by Aguirre. The convicts’ testimony gave an insight into how things work at the National Bilibid Prison and how the incarcerated drug lords still lord it over the state penitentiary. By their account and narrative to the House justice committee, it’s still business as usual as they carry out their illicit trade inside the NBP. They use mobile phones to sell drugs outside and transfer money to certain parties.
That De Lima allegedly received drug money used in her campaign for a Senate seat didn’t stick. De Lima may now be damaged goods but Aguirre and his DoJ team so far were unable to establish that drug money was directly given to De Lima. The convicted witnesses testified that money was transacted through money remittance centers to trusted henchmen, including De Lima’s driver Ronnie Dayan, but not directly to the former justice secretary.
Aguirre claimed De Lima received millions in dirty money but he has to show his predecessor stashed the loot in her bank account. He should have solicited the help of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) before making his claim that drug money went to De Lima’s bank book.
Let me make it clear that this piece is not in defense of De Lima but of due process and transparency in the prosecution of wrong- doing by our government officials. De Lima, according to a conscripted DoJ witness, had talked privately with one or two of the high profile drug convicts during her much publicized raids of facilities at the NBP in Muntinlupa. If true, then that’s more than a lapse in judgment by a justice secretary. That would be incrimination through reckless imprudence. What transpired during those tete-a tete with drug lords can only be the subject of speculation and loose talk among the convicts themselves.
The DoJ wants the National Bureau of Investigation to probe De Lima. Aguirre should provide the NBI with probable cause and documentary evidence instead of a House inquiry. The paper trail of fund transfers must be shown to end up in De Lima’s bank account. Otherwise, the government’s case would be deemed weak.
Short of asking what drug Duterte himself is taking, De Lima has thrown back the drug dirt to Duterte claiming he’s now allied with the convicted traffickers and is using them as witnesses to pin her down. That’s what happens when you throw mud at someone: the mud sticks in your hand. One cannot engage in mudslinging without getting one’s own hands dirty.
What’s this we hear Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo wants all drug addicts in the country to be placed on one island to serve as rehabilitation center? Where—in Corregidor, Sulu or Panatag Shoal? Panelo didn’t specify.
Drug dependents according to Panelo, are potential robbers, potential rapists, and potential killers and ultimately, to maintain their habit, become drug pushers themselves. While true, Panelo didn’t provide the logistics of transferring more than a million drug addicts on an island and the cost of building them the necessary shelter and the airlifting or ferrying by boats their basic supplies, not to mention the qualified personnel needed to run and maintain the facility.
What about the relatives who want to visit these drug dependents? How will they go to the island? It is during this time in their lives that these drug users who want to rehabilitate themselves need the support and love of their family. Otherwise, they will feel forsaken, marooned on an island like the US island prison of Alcatraz in the bay of San Francisco.
While the island rehab center is a capital idea, this is a case of talk first, think later. Maybe Sal Panelo might want to head the island rehab center himself. Then he, too, would feel and understand what it’s like to be isolated and desolate.