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‘Answer drug charges first’

Instead of making “noise,” Senator Leila de Lima should just answer allegations that she had been a protector of convicts involved in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines - Instead of making “noise,” Sen. Leila de Lima should just answer allegations that she had been a protector of convicts involved in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday.

He was reacting to De Lima’s filing a petition for a writ of habeas data with the Supreme Court, seeking to stop President Duterte from using state resources in what she called his “personal vendetta” against her.

President Duterte has described De Lima as the prime example of a “narco politician,” saying she won a Senate seat using drug money for her campaign.

Abella said De Lima was only resorting to “diversionary” tactics to conceal her involvement in the illegal drug trade when she was justice secretary.

“Senator De Lima’s filing of a petition before the Supreme Court is calculated to generate media noise to drown out the accusations against her,” Abella pointed out.

Administration officials have accused De Lima of receiving millions of pesos in drug money from NBP convicts involved in the illegal drug trade even while serving time. They alleged De Lima was receiving the money through her driver and lover.

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Aside from evading the issue, De Lima was also using the “gender card” to gain sympathy as well as cover her tracks.

“Sen. Leila de Lima is apparently playing the gender card as a shield against mounting evidence of her ties with high-profile drug lords and the proliferation of drug trade in the Bilibid,” Abella said.

He accused the senator of “portraying herself as a victim” by trying to “distance herself from the intimate relationships which were also intertwined with drug trafficking while she was DOJ secretary.”

‘Law and order’

Duterte, for his part, said the more his critics rub it in the more he becomes popular. He made the pronouncement at the oath taking of new officers of the National Press Club yesterday at Malacañang.

Duterte, who served as Davao City mayor for more than 20 years, said his rivals had tried to discredit him by criticizing his crackdown on crime but it only allowed him to stay in power.

“You know, I became popular as mayor because of the attacks made on me, particularly on law and order,” Duterte said.

“I just did not say it but the more that you rub it on, the more that it would make me popular. I don’t know if it’s happening in the national scene,” he added.

While he is not sure about the impact of criticisms on his popularity as president, Duterte claimed his tough stance against drugs and crime actually made him win the presidential elections.

“It guaranteed the 23 years of my mayorship. Their mistake was they criticized me on law and order. But that is what the people want,” the President said.

“I won even if I was not well-known because I was carrying the message: law and order. Or if not law and order, at least the people are hungry for a peaceful community,” he added. “They (critics) never learned their lesson.”

Known for his foul mouth and brashness, Duterte won by a landslide during the 2016 presidential race with 16.6 million votes.

During the campaign, he vowed to launch a brutal war against criminality and illegal drugs, saying it is his way of saving the next generation.

The President’s anti-drug war has left more than 3,000 drug suspects dead, raising concerns among human rights advocates who fear that the government is tolerating summary executions.

Duterte also shrugged off criticisms that he is not acting like a statesman.

“I never said I was a statesman. I ran for president. I did not run to be a statesman. My language is rough, well, you know where I came from. I’ve always been that way. No apologies. No excuses,” he added.

Advice to media

Duterte also had a piece of advice to members of the media, with whom he has a love-hate relationship.

“You go overboard by attacking the wife, the child. It’s a no-no. You are really seeking death if you do that, especially if you attack the children,” the President said.

“Pwede pa maski iyong tao lang mismo, bali-baliktarin mo... babuyin mo (You can do that to the person, you can criticize him). But never, never enter into the private domain of private lives,” he added.

“We can swallow insults, especially if they are true. But they won’t allow you to hit their families. One man’s sin cannot be the sin of the family.”

Duterte said he believes in freedom of the press and his administration has formed a task force that would address media killings.

“Here, it’s (press freedom) working and I would say that the Philippine press (is) free and independent, no pressure. The problem here is the continued killings of media people, of course, by itself this is fundamentally hideous and wrong,” the President said.

Duterte claimed though that some media killings are related to extortion and perfidy or dishonesty.

He also noted that some media workers are not qualified for the job.

“Sabi nga nila, inutusan lang magbili ng pan, pagbalik announcer na (As they say, some were just sent on an errand to buy bread and ended up as announcers),” he said. Nonetheless, Duterte said he views the media as a monitor against abusive practices.

“Remember that the freedom of the press is mostly geared against the establishment, the state and its abuses. And that is why the fourth state is there to fight the abuses of the first and second or third branches of government. You are the fourth,” he said.

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