MANILA, Philippines - The tide may be turning against Sen. Leila de Lima, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not be unfair to her.
This is what Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said as he defended recent actions of the DOJ on De Lima, who is being linked to the proliferation of the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and benefitting from drug money.
“I keep on saying that I am not using my office or abusing my power to persecute her,” Aguirre said in an interview yesterday.
Aguirre said the fact-finding investigation on De Lima, the conduct of preliminary investigation on drug charges against her and other personalities implicated by witnesses in the congressional inquiry, and the issuance of immigration lookout bulletin order (LBO) against her and other respondents were all procedural matters required of his office.
Aguirre stressed that De Lima should be very aware of such powers that she herself applied during her tenure as justice secretary of the previous administration.
He also believes that De Lima is only experiencing what she had done to other politicians during her stint in the DOJ.
“Hindi naman bago ang mga ito. Bumabalik lang lahat sa kanya (These are not new. It’s all just turn of the tide on her),” he said.
Aguirre cited the issuance of LBO on De Lima and DOJ’s acceptance of the charges against her despite the primary jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman on cases against incumbent government officials.
He recalled that it was De Lima herself who formulated the rule on LBO when she was the justice secretary in lieu of the department’s power to issue watchlist and hold departure orders on persons facing fact-finding or preliminary investigation on criminal charges, which was stopped by the Supreme Court in 2011 in the case of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
When the DOJ was under De Lima, it also conducted investigations on the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office anomaly and Priority Development Assistance Fund cases against incumbent lawmakers and forwarded its findings to the Ombudsman.
“She knows this very well. In 2014, she said that selective justice was not a valid defense and that the DOJ has concurrent power with the Ombudsman. Now that it’s happening to her, why is she questioning the DOJ’s concurrent power?” Aguirre argued.
Aguirre advised De Lima to respect the legal processes and disprove the charges against her in the upcoming preliminary investigation instead of coming up with “general denials” before the media and “personal attacks” on him.
“That’s not the way you defend yourself. You should be proving you’re not a protector of drug lords, that you did this and that during your term to cleanse Bilibid,” he added.
The DOJ on Friday created a high-level panel of prosecutors to conduct the preliminary investigations on the separate complaints filed against De Lima and eight others by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founding chair Dante Jimenez and former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala last week.