‘Vindictive politics,’ De Lima says of drug raps against her
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed criminal charges against Sen. Leila de Lima on Friday over allegations she presided over the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary when she was the justice secretary.
De Lima said she had expected the move and scored the Duterte administration for its “vindictive politics.” She said she was bracing herself for becoming “the first political prisoner” under the regime of her archenemy.
“As expected, the DOJ today filed criminal charges against me with the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa,” De Lima said in a statement. “My lawyers are already on top of the situation and will be filing the corresponding motions as soon as the cases are raffled to a specific branch.”
De Lima said the DOJ resolution finding probable cause against her was a “travesty of truth and justice.”
She is the first sitting senator who is a former justice secretary and human rights chair to face trial over drug charges, which are nonbailable under the country’s strict antidrug law.
Once the case is assigned to a court, the judge will decide whether to issue a warrant for De Lima’s arrest.
“I have long prepared myself to be the first political prisoner under this regime because the criminal charges and prosecution are nothing less than a politically motivated act by the Duterte regime to clamp down on any vocal opposition against its support for a policy of extrajudicial killings in dealing with suspected criminals,” said the senator, who was at home when she received the news.
She has repeatedly denied the charges in public.
The DOJ elevated to court drug cases against De Lima, shortly after the Court of Appeals rejected her plea for a temporary restraining order to suspend its proceedings on the criminal complaints.
The appellate court is still set to hear the merits of De Lima’s petition, which seeks to stop the justice department from acting on the criminal complaints.
De Lima said the filing of charges against her should serve as a “wake-up call” for the country, citing how she was hauled to court while Janet Lim-Napoles, alleged mastermind of the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, may have an opening to be released from prison.
‘Change has come’
“Change has, indeed, come, and it has come to devour our sense of justice and morality—where right is turned to wrong, and wrong is made right,” De Lima said.
“If the loss of my freedom is the price I have to pay for standing up against the butchery of the Duterte regime, then it is a price I am willing to pay. But they are mistaken if they think my fight ends here. It has only begun,” she stressed.
Mr. Duterte in August accused De Lima of abetting and even profiting from the drug trade at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during her time as justice chief. This came as the senator fiercely questioned the government’s war on drugs and subsequently spearheaded a Senate inquiry.
But she was swiftly removed from the helm of the committee in the middle of the investigation, with her colleagues in the Senate citing her bias against the President.
Since then, a string of drug allegations have surfaced against De Lima, with a group of high-profile convicts among the chief witnesses who testified against her. Her personal life, including her romantic relationship with former aide and driver Ronnie Dayan, was bared at a hearing in the House of Representatives.
De Lima is also facing disbarment proceedings in the Supreme Court and ethics cases at the Senate rooted in the drug allegations against her.
She has repeatedly denied the charges, saying they are part of efforts to taint her name and to get back at her for her stinging criticism of the President.
De Lima and the President have had a history of conflict, as the senator had investigated his involvement in extrajudicial killings in Davao when she was still Commission on Human Rights chair and he was still mayor of the city.
On Friday, De Lima said the cases against her were proof of the administration’s vindictiveness.
“This is the kind of vindictive politics that we only expect from this regime. Despite these fascist methods employed by this fascist regime, we will continue to fight this battle and wage our own war for human rights and democracy. In the end, justice will prevail and we will be vindicated,” De Lima said.
Reacting to the news on Friday, President Duterte said De Lima should “face the music” and that he believed the case against her was strong.
“She has a forum to defend herself, to show that she’s not guilty,” Salvador Panelo, the President’s chief legal adviser, told reporters. “If it’s proven that she’s involved in drugs, she will be jailed. She will experience for herself what she did to Arroyo.”
He was referring to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was jailed for corruption during the Aquino administration when De Lima served as justice department head. The Supreme Court in July dismissed the plunder case against Arroyo and set her free.
Three drug cases were filed by the DOJ against De Lima and others for violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act at the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court shortly past 2 p.m.
The first complaint accused De Lima, Rafael Ragos, former director of Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and National Bureau of Investigation deputy director for intelligence, and Dayan.
The same charges were filed against Jose Adrian Dera, alias Jad de Vera, a nephew and close-in security detail of De Lima who acted as her bagman, and former BuCor director Franklin Bucayu.
Also accused in the third complaint were De Lima and his former security aides Dayan, Dera and Joenel Sanchez, Bucayu and his staff and alleged bagman, Col. Wilfredo Elli, and NBP high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian.
The cases will be raffled off at 1 p.m. on Monday to determine which branch of the court will hear the cases. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND DEXTER CABALZA