Lack of ‘extort’ witnesses disappoints De LimaBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday expressed disappointment that no one in the Department of Justice (DOJ) had responded to her appeal to provide information on the possible involvement of more people in an extortion attempt that happened right in the premises of the DOJ.
De Lima said she ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an entrapment operation in the office of Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Severino Gana Jr. of the National Prosecution Service on August 31.
De Lima made the disclosure during her speech at yesterday’s Orientation Workshop on the Operational Processes of the Internal Affairs Unit of the National Prosecution Service at G Hotel in Pasay City.
The other day, De Lima filed charges of grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against Gana, as well as his staff member Mutya de los Santos Santiago-Tobes and another DOJ employee, Louise Siquico Garcia, and placed them under 90-day preventive suspension.
She also asked the three to answer the charges against them in five days.
De Lima had alerted the NBI after she was informed by a certain Nuriza Abeja that Gana had reportedly asked her to pay Santiago-Tobes the amount of P300,000 for a favorable ruling in the adultery case filed against her by her husband.
Santiago-Tobes was charged by the NBI with robbery-extortion but she was able to post bail.
Abeja, in her complaint-affidavit, said it was Gana who had told her to pay the amount to Santiago-Tobes.
De Lima said Abeja’s statements were backed by “records of text messages and logs of phone calls made by the NPS employee to her.”
With this development, the justice secretary said more people could have been involved in the extortion scheme. She quoted Gana as telling Abeja that he could not pacify some people who had demanded that the money be immediately paid.
“Who are these people? That’s the biggest question,” she said.
De Lima reminded the prosecutors “not to weigh available evidence, but to seek it out, to build a case, to search for answers, to unearth the truth.”
She challenged them to “deliver to justice those who do not deserve to belong to the National Prosecution Service.”
De Lima said that she would rather “suffer the public humiliation” of “dozens” more entrapment operations within the DOJ “if at the end of the day, we can rid the ranks of the NPS of the undesirables.”
“Because of recent events, I cannot help but doubt whether the people we are entrusting with the enforcement of the Codes of Conduct for the Prosecution Service and our good governance and anticorruption initiatives are, in fact, the right people to be investigating such nefarious activities within their very own ranks,” De Lima said in her speech.