MANILA, Philippines— Liberal Party senators are alarmed over the possible filing of charges and issuance of arrest warrants against their party mate Sen. Leila de Lima over her alleged complicity in the illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prisons during her time as the secretary of justice.
In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Benigno Aquino IV warned the public against the possible use of these criminal charges against De Lima as a “political tool, propaganda and smokescreen or distractions for the public.”
“We must be wary of the possibility that criminal cases are being used as political tool, propaganda, and smokescreen or distractions for the public,” the three LP senators said.
Recent reports indicate that De Lima may be indicted this week. DOJ Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II said last weekend that the resolution of criminal charges against De Lima could lead to the formal lodging of cases against her and her possible arrest.
Aguirre also said that some cases such as graft would be filed with the Office of the Ombudsman while others would be filed in courts, which could order De Lima’s arrest on drug charges. There is no bail for drug cases.
De Lima on the other hand assailed the seeming rush of the Justice department to prepare the cases and to get her arrested. De Lima said that her sources in the Justice department confirmed that Aguirre was hastening the filing of these charges against her.
“And then here comes very reliable information from within that they (DOJ) are close to (coming) up with the resolution finding probable cause against me, and worse, to bring it the regular courts. Why? So they can immediately get warrants of arrest,” De Lima told reporters at the Senate.
Among the charges expected to be filed against her is the alleged violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act or Republic Act 9165 because of her alleged receipt of P8 million in drug money from drug lord Kerwin Espinosa. This money was supposedly used for her senatorial campaign in 2016.
The LP senators also supported De Lima's call for these charges be filed with the Office of the Ombudsman since she is a government official.
According to the three senators, the ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over cases against public officers 'cognizable' by the Sandiganbayan. Violation of RA 9165, the senators said, falls under “other offenses committed by public officials” stipulated in the Sandiganbayan Law.
Drilon, Pangilinan and Aquino also cast doubt on the testimonies of NBP inmates.
“The stabbing of potential witness Jayvee Sebastian also puts a serious cloud of doubt on the veracity of his testimony and those of other inmates made to testify who may all very well be fearful for their lives,” they said.
Aguirre is facing intense criticism after reports about the special privileges enjoyed by inmates who testified against De Lima emerged. Among the perks supposedly enjoyed by the convicts who testified in Congress were use of mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, television, airconditioning units and even internet access.
The DOJ has already ordered a probe into the revelations. Aguirre also said that the Bureau of Corrections legal office chief Alvin Lim, whom he suspects of leaking the document, would be suspended.