Senator (for the time being) Leila de Lima’s contempt for the intelligence of the Filipino people is staggering. As she scrambles like a drowning woman grasping for a straw, the best defence she can come up with against the mounting evidence, showing her involvement in the illegal drugs trade – and as benefitting from it – is that those witnessing against her are convicts. Yet, her “star witness” at the Senate hearings into her allegations of the president’s involvement with the Davao Death Squad is a self-confessed assassin. If that’s not an irony, then she’s not a liar. But that’s not the only irony.
Jaybee Sebastian (JB), convict supremo at New Bilibid Prison (NBP), she repeatedly refers to as a “government asset”. This is the man who presides over an illegal-drugs empire in the heart of the Philippines’ largest penitentiary, and who, under her tenure as the Secretary of Justice was permitted to do so. In fact, from what we’ve heard so far, by removing the convict competition from NBP – relocating them to other penal facilities, under her direction – she handed him an illegal-drugs monopoly. And a highly profitable one; one of the most profitable in the country – and courtesy of her Justice Department.
JB’s evidence, apparently, is unimpugnable according to De Lima – that is, of course, unless he becomes a “government asset” of the present government, in which case his evidence will be wholly unreliable. Thus, if he testifies for her, we should believe him; if he testifies against her, we should not believe him. That’s a level of argument most children abandoned in K6.
And if all that’s not an irony, then the Pope is a Buddhist.
Let us proceed. The ex-Justice Secretary chides the current Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre II, for not seeing “how laughable [the government’s] situation is”. Her ‘argument’ for this hilarity – apparently only evident to her – is that the drug lords had put out a kill-contract on the president. “What was that?” asks the theatrical De Lima, “A change of heart? How stupid of them to miss how skewed their statements are”.
But how skewed is that argument? First, while it’s likely that a contract was taken out – billions of dollars are at stake here; a thriving illegal-drugs sector is not something the drug lords are going to suddenly relinquish – it’s beyond hilarious to believe that each and every drug boss put his imprimatur to it. As the history and the code of the Sicilian Mafia teaches, the last thing that organised crime courts is social instability; where law enforcement becomes ever present on the streets that supply its fortunes – a situation that would inevitably occur if the president was assassinated.
Drug lords, like the general population, are not as naïve and stupid as Mz De Lima would have us believe. And what about the Bilibid 19, the drug head honchos whom she had removed from operational control within NBP? Some of them might well have signed a contract, but given the disruption their businesses suffered, The Volatilian™ would not like to bet that it’s Duterte’s name on it. The point is, De Lima’s clumsy attempt to reduce the powerful testimony that has been given against her by feeble conjecture on her part, is insulting to any normal intelligence.
Is this really the quality of advocacy being taught at the San Beda College of Law from which the former Secretary of Justice graduated? Is this serious legal reasoning? But her shabby and lacklustre self-defence doesn’t end there.
She neglects to mention in her rebuttals that not all the witnesses are convicts – like Herbert Colangco seen, in the picture above, enjoying one of her karaoke appearances at New Bilibid Prison. We have also heard from officers in the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police. We now have possibly damning evidence awaiting from the Anti-Money Laundering Council in relation to cash flows – possibly as much as PHP1 billion – that may have ended up in shadow bank accounts belonging to De Lima. Her rebuttal to this last point was: “As far as I know, there’s nothing there that would establish my alleged drug links”. Not exactly a forthright denial then. A former officer of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency is also ready to come forward and give evidence.
Her entire line of defence sounds like something cobbled together by Acme Legal Services, Specialists in Bogus Claims. Does she truly believe that the court of public opinion is gullible enough to swallow such an insubstantial deliberation? More worrisome, was this the measure of rational legal thought and jurisprudence that she brought to former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s Justice Department? Summarily dismissing testimony because it’s inconvenient to her; is that how her legal system worked?
De Lima’s powers of advocacy are less than impressive, but her utter underestimation of the people’s basic cognitive abilities is remarkable. She has succeeded in putting her own case in a vice of her own making and every time she opens her mouth she succeeds in tightening the screw further. What she might be in need of fairly soon is some sound legal advice – and preferably this time not from Acme Legal Services.
What is glaringly conspicuous by its absence from De Lima’s assertions is not just corroboration from genuine sources, but support of them by the leadership of the Liberal Party which she represents in the Senate. Where are the likes of Aquino; former VP, Roxas; present VP, Robredo? Perhaps they are slowly distancing themselves from her train wreck of legal argument. After all, by the practices of political survival that would be the normal and wisest course of action.
In this case there is a great deal that stands at risk.
If the Justice Department finds that De Lima has a case to answer – for example under the 2002 Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (various article and sections); or the 2000 Proceeds of Crime Act; or the Revised Penal Code – and if, subsequently, the court finds her guilty, this becomes a whole different ball game.
Public reaction will be swift. Supporters of De Lima will be rounded on and vilified. Their political credentials will be trashed. But the ramifications go far deeper than that; the Liberal Party (LP) ship could sink to the bottom without any hope of being salvaged. That is what’s at stake here. It matters little what minor points LP supporters might score between now and when this matter is put to rest. What will matter then will be who, in the interests of the Filipino people, saw fit to add their weight to De Lima’s cause. They will pay a heavy price. If she goes down, they go down with her. If the LP as a body throws its weight behind her and gambles, as she continues to that she will walk away from all this like a victorious crusader, the Liberal Party is virtually doomed. This would rank as one of the biggest political scandals ever hatched in the Philippines – it has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
As for her other virtual employer, Human Rights Watch, any genuine mileage it made in improving human rights in the Philippines, or in the rest of Southeast Asia for that matter, will have been squandered. How can people be expected to believe in an organisation that props up one of its own who has profiteered from the wholesale misery of those it seeks to help? And the international media that fawns after De Lima, how would such a turn of events affect them? Sadly, it won’t. They are unaccountable and lost the people’s trust a long time ago. They will just carry on singing to their own choir.
Until the next episode of this sage, The Volatilian™ rests its case.