The ‘Fiscalizer’ to the ‘Punisher’: I’m watching you
LOOK out, “Punisher.” Here comes the “Fiscalizer.”
She has long kept a watchful eye on the former Davao City mayor’s campaign against crime, and Sen. Leila de Lima is not about to let her guard down now that she is in the legislature and he has become President Duterte.
De Lima, former justice secretary and human rights chief, on Saturday vowed to remain vigilant as the Duterte administration pursues what is shaping up to be a bloody war against crime and drugs, saying she will be the protector of civil liberties in case of law enforcement excesses.
“I see myself primarily as a fiscalizer when it comes to the anticrime thrust of this administration. I know that this campaign of the administration resonates among a lot of our people as it is truly laudable, but we must be constantly reminded that this should not be done at the expense of our civil liberties,” De Lima told the Inquirer.
She started the ball rolling on Thursday when she called for a congressional inquiry into the spate of drug killings and vigilante-style slayings amid Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs. The death toll has exceeded 100 since the President took office on June 30.
At least two senators—Antonio Trillanes IV and Francis Pangilinan—have expressed their intent to participate in the investigation.
Checks and balances
On Saturday, De Lima emphasized the need for checks and balances among the branches of government, saying this mechanism “assumes a pivotal role in this context, now more than ever.”
“If I see that our Bill of Rights is already being compromised in the course of this campaign, I will not sit idly by and stay silent. Somebody must speak out against any attack on our civil liberties,” De Lima said in a text message.
“We cannot allow any diminution of this constitutional precept because it remains to be the only guarantee against abuse of executive power,” she said.
It was with the same gusto that De Lima pursued an investigation into summary executions attributed to the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante purge team to which Mr. Duterte had been linked.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) was forced to end the investigation in May for lack of corroborating evidence, after the confessed hitman left state witness protection.
Such stance had earned for De Lima Mr. Duterte’s sharp retorts, most notably during the campaign period.
In one instance, the tough-talking Mr. Duterte told her to “shut up,” and threatened to file charges against her for the unabated drug peddling at the national penitentiary—an agency under the DOJ—despite her consecutive raids.
Still unfazed now that she is a senator, De Lima said she would endeavor to “strike a healthy balance” between her support for the administration’s campaign against crime, drugs and corruption, and her fidelity to the Constitution.
“I will always assert the supremacy of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, and the system of checks and balances in our government,” De Lima said. “I will be doing a lot of balancing act both as an anticrime and anticorruption crusader and a human rights advocate and defender.”
De Lima has not seen Mr. Duterte “for years.” She did not respond when asked what she might tell the President when they cross paths again.
But she will be one with her colleagues in the Liberal Party in joining the Senate majority, an alliance forged with Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Mr. Duterte’s party.
De Lima said she would also support the bid of the President’s key ally, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, for the Senate presidency.
Now in the process of putting together her staff, De Lima is inclined to join, if not lead, the Senate committees on justice and human rights, and electoral reforms.
In an earlier interview, De Lima said she was “excited” to begin legislative work.
“Like in my previous positions at the Commission on Human Rights and the DOJ, you know, I just have to hit the ground running. It’s an on-the-job training for me always at the start,” she said on Thursday.
“You know, more than the lawmaking itself and the drafting of bills, I have to acquaint myself also with the inner workings here in the Senate, particularly the administrative aspects of things,” she said.
Looking fresh and not a hair out of place, De Lima declared she was “physically fit” to start her Senate stint.
“I was able to rest after the grueling campaign. I’ve been able to get good sleep and I have resumed my regular walking,” De Lima said. TVJ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.