Philippine President’s critic sidelined

Former Philippine justice minister and present Senator Leila De Lima appears to be losing the fight against President Duterte after senators voted to remove her as head of a house committee probing the drugs war in which at least 3,800 people have been killed since Duterte took office 11 weeks ago.

Following the testimony of an alleged hit-man implicating Philippine President Rodrigo in the killings of over thousands in Davao City where he served as mayor for 23 years, Philippine Senator Leila De Lima said it is time to revisit the immunity from suit doctrine that spares the highest leader of the land from criminal suits.

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima delivers a privilege speech at the Senate in Pasay city, Metro Manila

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima delivers a privilege speech at the Senate in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines September 20. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The doctrine of immunity from suit protects the sitting President from harassment.

De Lima, the staunchest critic of Duterte, said it can also hinder his possible prosecution in case the President turns out to be a mass murderer, serial killer or rapist.

“Please do not misunderstood me. This is just an academic discussion. What if we have elected a mass murderer, serial killer or a rapist,” she asked.

Since 2009, De Lima, who was then chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and later appointed as justice secretary, has been trying to pin down Duterte for thousands of murders in Davao City.

Now a Senator, she led a Senate investigation into Duterte’s extrajudicial killings by presenting a witness, Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed member of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

The DDS, allegedly headed by Duterte, was responsible for thousands of killings in Davao City.

Duterte’s alleged crimes

The DDS is composed of policemen and former communist rebels. Matobato, in his testimony, said their targets were criminal suspects and enemies of the Duterte family.

According to Matobato, some of the alleged crimes masterminded by Duterte were the following:

* The bombings of Bangkerohan and Ma-a Muslim mosques in retaliation to the bombing of a Cathedral in Davao. Muslim suspects killed in the bombings were buried in Laud Quarry in Ma-a, Davao.

* Killing of journalist Jun Pala.

*Killing of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent ‘Amisola’. Matobato said several armed men shot the NBI agent but Duterte finished him off by emptying two magazines of UZI.

*Kidnapping and killing of four body guards of former House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

*Killing of religious leader Jun Barsabal who was allegedly squatting and grabbing lands in Davao.

*Killing of alleged Turkish terrorist Makdum.

*Arrest of a criminal suspect who was eventually fed to crocodiles in 2007.

*Death of Duterte’s sister Jocelyn’s dance instructor in 2013.

Fact-checking

When questioned by Senators on the veracity of his allegations, Matobato said he can no longer recall some events as they happened a long time ago.

When asked if the DDS hanged or slashed open the victim, he said they hanged the victim and then slashed him open but retracted the statement saying they killed the victim by hanging him.

Matobato said former head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), Davao, and now Director General of Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald Dela Rosa had ordered the killing of Turkish terrorist Makdum.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, said PAOCTF was dismantled in 2001.

When Matobato was informed that the Nograles family denied his claim that four of their security escorts were killed, he said those killed were actually subordinates of Police General Eduardo Matillano.

However, Lacson, a former police chief and Matillano’s classmate in military school, said his classmate texted him telling that he has not detailed any of his men to the Nograles family.

Duterte’s sister Jocelyn denied having a dance instructor-lover. The President’s sister, who has a passion for dancing, said her dance instructors are all alive contrary to Matobato’s claim.

Also if the crime happened in October 2013 as claimed by Matobato, De Lima herself had said Matobato was admitted to the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) in the middle of 2013 and kept in a safe house. He left WPP only last May after Duterte won the presidential election.

Purpose of De Lima’s probe

De Lima has been talking of Duterte’s propensity to commit murder.

But Senate President Koko Pimentel said the Senate Resolution on the extrajudicicial killing probe specifically stated that the investigation was for the recent spate of extrajudicial killings.

“What does he [Matobato] know of the recent killings? He was talking of the past [referring to the time Duterte was still a mayor of Davao City],” Pimentel said.

De Lima’s Committee, according to Pimentel, has no power to pin down any official or individual because only the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee can look upon a person’s accountability.

The lady Senator also denied prepping an impeachment case against Duterte but noted that she will ask Matobato to execute an affidavit and refer it to the ‘authorities’ for proper action.

Doomed from the start

De Lima did not give a categorical answer on whether Duterte’s alleged crimes can be considered an impeachable offense.

“Look at the Constitution,” said De Lima.

Article 11 Section 2 of the Philippine constitution lays down the grounds for impeachment which include culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

Attorney Rosario Setias-Reyes, President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the country’s biggest law organization, says murder is neither treason nor betrayal of public trust.

Liberal Party (LP), the political party of former President Benigno Aquino III of which De Lima was a member, denied any impeachment moves against Duterte.

Vice President Leni Robredo, the highest elected LP member, said she will speak to the President on the reported impeachment moves.

“I plan to clarify this with the President and assure him of the party’s commitment to the reforms for our people,” Robredo said.

Her statement was echoed by Senator Franklin Drilon saying “we have no plans like that.”

In Congress where an impeachment complaint will originate, majority of LP members who are expected to be the opposition are with the majority bloc making an impeachment complaint dead even before it starts.

A cover-up

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who was Duterte’s lawyer in 2009 when De Lima charged Duterte for his involvement in DDS, said nothing has been proven despite the investigations conducted by De Lima.

He said De Lima even led the exhumation of bodies of alleged DDS victims/ in Laud Quarry.

“But they were skeletons of those who died during the Japanese occupation. Some were of animals,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said De Lima used Matobato to cover up the evidence against her in the Congressional inquiry on the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the country’s biggest penitentiary.

While denying allegations that he is zeroing on De Lima, Aguirre pointed to negligence on the part of the previous heads of the national penitentiary that led to ‘booming’ illegal drugs business inside the prison. De Lima was the former Justice Secretary. The national penitentiary is an attached agency of the department of justice.

Duterte, who had been trading barbs with De Lima since 2009, said when she heading the CHR for seven years, no case was filed against him.

“She was seven years chairman of Human Rights. Binibira niya ako. Hindi naman nag-file ng kaso (She was pinning me down but she did not file a case against me). When she was Secretary of Justice, she was building a name at my [expense] para ma (to become) popular. Now what? She was not only s… her driver, she was s… the nation,” said Duterte.

Duterte said “If she is my mother, I will shoot her.”

De Lima, on the other hand, said all dictatorship “will come to an end. Maybe not now but the time of those in power has their limits.”

On the initiative of boxing champion-turned Senator Manny Pacquiao, De Lima was ousted as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice.

Pacquiao said she was biased and had been using the Senate for her own protection.

De Lima accused Duterte of having a hand in her ouster.

When asked about De Lima’s accusations, Duterte said “I don’t care.”

(Copyright 2016 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)



Categories: Asia Times News & Features, Southeast Asia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,