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De Lima: The issue is Makati’s corruption

Your irrelevant arguments do nothing to defend your boss.

“To say that he once fed his (former Makati) Vice Mayor (Ernesto Mercado) from his own hands only for Mercado to turn against him and that he [is an ingrate] is definitely not the best way to impeach a witness. To expose the alleged luxury vehicles of Senator Trillanes will never explain the provenance of the air-conditioned piggery and gardening site, a 350-hectare estate,” she said.

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That’s Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s answer on Friday to statements from the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay questioning her authority to investigate allegations of corruption against the second highest official in the land.

Offering fighting words, De Lima told Binay’s camp that the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not need to be schooled on how to do its job.

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In a fiery speech at the close of the national convention of the Public Attorney’s Office, De Lima asserted the DOJ’s right to direct the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the allegations against Binay, his family and associates despite a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee inquiry into the scandal involving the Vice President.

“The Vice President’s men, with all the resources at their command, have only one thing to worry about: To clear their principal from all the accusations leveled at him,” De Lima said.

She scored the “tiresomely unoriginal, repetitive and evasive” arguments against DOJ investigations of cases involving high-profile people.

“If every time the subject of an investigation asked the DOJ or the NBI to stop the investigation because ‘that’s only politics’ and the DOJ complies, what will happen to the justice system?” De Lima said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

For all the statements that Binay’s press officers have made in his defense, De Lima said they have failed to do one thing.

“They have said everything except the one thing we really, really seek and need: The truth,” she said.

“Instead, they make the worst ever argument possible. They attempt to make us believe that two wrongs make a right—that is, for the DOJ to stand aside, looking on, doing nothing, while accusations and evidence of corruption and accumulation of undeclared and unexplained wealth are raised against no less than one of the highest officials in [the] government,” she said.

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Stop name-dropping

But Binay’s defenders were at it again on Friday, saying she should stop dragging President Aquino’s name into the NBI investigation of the Vice President’s hidden wealth.

Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, interim president of Binay’s party, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said in a statement that De Lima should not put Mr. Aquino on the spot by boasting that only the President or the Ombudsman could stop her department from investigating the Binays and other people implicated in the alleged irregularities in Makati City being investigated by the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee.

Tiangco said De Lima appeared to suggest by using the President’s name that it was he who ordered her to investigate the Binay family and at the same time not to press an investigation of administration allies linked to a number of scandals.

“She should stop name-dropping the President to cover up for her unlawful actions against the Vice President. She’d better not involve him as he has enough problems on his plate,” Tiangco said.

“Now that she claims it is only the President and the Ombudsman who can stop her, the public conclusion is that the President stopped her from investigating [Budget Secretary Florencio] Abad’s role as the alleged mastermind [of the P10-billion pork barrel] scam as revealed by Janet Napoles,” he said.

Criticized over probe

De Lima said she spoke out because of recent remarks by Binay’s press officers, who criticized her for ordering a parallel NBI investigation, even warning that she was “courting a lawsuit” for initiating the investigation.

“They’re expected to do only one thing: To clear the name of the Vice President. And we ask, can they prove that all the witnesses [against] the Vice President are lying? We are not seeing that,” De Lima said.

“If they are not able to do that, they should not take out their frustration on the DOJ. They should not tell us how to do our job,” she added.

Binay is accused of “systematic corruption” at Makati City Hall when he was the mayor of Makati, amassing ill-gotten wealth in the process.

His camp has denied all allegations, saying these were part of a political operation to discredit him ahead of the 2016 presidential election, for which he has been preparing since being elected Vice President in 2010.

In a roughly 30-minute speech, De Lima reminded Binay’s camp of the DOJ’s mandate to conduct investigations, saying it had done so even when other powerful people were involved: Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for plunder and electoral sabotage; Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, for the pork barrel scam; and other lawmakers and officials for various other cases.

“That the case is high profile and involving a powerful politician was never a reason for the DOJ to inhibit itself from conducting a probe. Definitely, it is not a reason for the DOJ to refrain from investigating now,” De Lima said.

“Why would the DOJ now shy away from another investigation of another case of alleged corruption and plunder? If the DOJ does refrain from investigating now, would it not constitute a case of special treatment or even dereliction of duty?” she said.

Diverting the discussion

De Lima noted how Binay’s spokespersons have resorted to muddling the issue, discrediting whistle-blower Ernesto Mercado, accusing Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who is part of the Senate inquiry, of owning luxury vehicles, and diverting the discussion to other matters.

“Rather than question the legal basis of the [Disbursement Acceleration Program], he (Binay) should confront accusations of amassing ill-gotten wealth. To say that the DAP was used by Secretary Abad to bribe senators is not a valid defense against the accusations of corruption in Makati,” De Lima said.

She continued: “To claim that former President Arroyo is innocent and merely persecuted by this administration despite her illness is not a convincing response to testimonial evidence of unprecedented plunder of local government coffers.

Not immune from suit

De Lima reiterated her stand that while Binay may be removed only through impeachment, he is not immune from suit, as his camp has been asserting.

“As the department is poised to pursue its own investigation of the various allegations raised against the Vice President, it is not up to him or his spokespersons to determine the limits of the department’s power to investigate impeachable officers,” De Lima said.

“It is only the Supreme Court that can interpret the department’s powers of investigation under the law, in accord with its own statements that impeachable officers are not exempt from criminal proceedings,” she added.

De Lima said the DOJ had no intention to challenge Binay’s standing as an official who could be removed only through impeachment. The results of the NBI investigation would ultimately be turned over to the Ombudsman for proper disposition, she said.

Affront to VP’s office

De Lima directly addressed Binay:

“We had hoped this would be welcome to the Vice President since he believed he could no longer rely on the impartiality of the [Senate blue ribbon sub-committee] investigation. But instead, he seems to have taken our declaration as an affront to his office and his status as an impeachable officer. We have no such intention.”

“If there is nothing to hide, the investigation should be welcomed with open arms, and not questioned at every turn for irrelevant reasons.”

De Lima maintained that it is the DOJ’s duty to investigate the allegations against Binay.

“In the case of the accusations against the Vice President, I’m convinced that the right thing to do, because we owe it to the public, is to get to the bottom of things. The issue here is not whether or not the DOJ can investigate the Vice President. The issue still is, and will remain, whether or not the accusations of systemic corruption in Makati and the amassing of ill-gotten wealth are true,” De Lima said.

“The issue is not the DOJ or the secretary of justice. The issue is the Vice President, the members of his family, his alleged dummies, and his cohorts,” she added.

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TAGS: Antonio Trillanes IV, corruption, De Lima, Ernesto Mercado, Jejomar Binay, Leila de Lima, Makati City, National Bureau of Investigation
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