MANILA, Philippines – Members of the House of Representatives’ committee on justice yesterday voted unanimously to do away with the recommendation to press charges against Sen. Leila de Lima for allegedly allowing drugs to proliferate inside the national penitentiary.
The report is subject to the approval of the House plenary, which is controlled by the “super majority” allied with President Duterte, who has tagged De Lima as the top example of a narco politician.
The panel of lawmakers led by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali adopted the 17-page Committee Report 14 on House Resolution 105 that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez authored investigating the spread of illegal drugs when De Lima was still secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“This will form part of the records of the House. We are ready to defend it in plenary,” Umali said.
Umali advised his colleagues that he had signed the transmittal report to House Secretary General Cesar Pareja.
The House leadership has vowed to come up with a bill to amend the law creating the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to overhaul the entire prison system and eventually prevent a repeat of unabated drug trade inside the prison facility.
The revelations made by the inmates on how the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) became the country’s main source of illegal drugs convinced lawmakers to restore capital punishment for heinous crimes.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas explained the House rules require the Umali panel report has to pass through his committee on rules before it can be taken up and approved in plenary.
“We hope to complete this inquiry in 28 days, the shortest and fastest in the history of Philippine Congress under Speaker Alvarez,” Umali remarked, prior to the voting proper that he described as a “historic event.”
The House minority bloc, represented by Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin, manifested their group’s dissent, insisting the Umali committee should have come up with a report recommending the prosecution of De Lima, among many others.
“For us, it is necessary to identify all those officials involved. A recommendation should be made against those accountable officials,” Garbin told the committee members.
He said the BuCor officials who connived with drug convicts should also be charged under the law.
In last Monday’s executive session, the group of House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Harry Roque of party-list Kabayan protested the move of Umali’s group to do away with recommending De Lima’s prosecution.
They insisted it was part of their mandate to identify the offenders and recommend their prosecution.
Umali said this was why their report was “revised and (eventually) finalized.”
Roque stressed the former justice secretary should be prosecuted for drug trafficking, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and be booted out of the Senate for allowing illegal drugs to flourish during her watch.
He pointed out the NBP under BuCor is also under the direct supervision of the DOJ.
“We are elected legislators and we took an oath to uphold the laws of the land. I believe it is incumbent upon the members of Congress to recommend the filing of criminal charges if we believe that our laws have been violated,” Roque maintained.
Rep. Sherwin Tugna of party-list Citizens Battle Against Corruption agreed.
“Let the ax fall where it should,” Tugna stressed. He said BuCor officials “liable for the proliferation of the illegal substance should be prosecuted after due investigation of the DOJ.”
“Testimonies have been delivered and certain personalities have been tagged during the four hearings on drug trafficking in the Bilibid. What is important is what we do after the hearings,” he reiterated.
Tugna proposed a review of the organizational structure of BuCor after finding out from convicted kidnapper Jaybee Sebastian that only 20 to 30 prison guards per shift are in charge of the 16,000 high profile inmates at the maximum security compound.
“There we could see the seriousness of the problem in the country’s jail management. We need more manpower for the BuCor,” Tugna said.
He said the testimonies of former BuCor acting chief Rafael Ragos and Sebastian are “enough to implicate BuCor officials for the apparent misfeasance, malfeasance and criminal negligence to act on the existence of a drug trade in the NBP.
“I call on the DOJ to investigate further. We need to get to the bottom of this and make sure that all erring officials are held accountable. Administrative sanctions and criminal liabilities should be put into place after exercising due process,” Tugna said.
Earlier this month, De Lima was charged before the DOJ by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), citing the testimonies of the inmates and other resource persons during the House inquiry into the alleged illegal drug activities at the NBP.
De Lima, however, maintained the charges against her should have been brought before the Office of the Ombudsman, where the senator said she would get fairer treatment.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales recently stated her office would not conduct an investigation on its own initiative against De Lima based on what has been coming out in the statements of President Duterte against the senator and in the House inquiry.
Duterte has accused De Lima of dealing in illegal drugs at the NBP when she was DOJ secretary.
Morales said what she has been hearing are mere allegations and no actual leads that would prompt the conduct of an investigation against De Lima.
De Lima said she has “no doubt about the competence and the integrity of the current ombudsman.”
“She knows what she’s talking about. I have very high respect for her. I have no doubt about her competence, her integrity, her sense of fairness and justice,” De Lima said.
De Lima said she does not expect to get a fair treatment from the DOJ, the agency which she used to head and is now led by Vitaliano Aguirre II.