MANILA, Philippines - The two chambers of Congress look headed for a showdown as Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez yesterday threatened to have Sen. Leila de Lima arrested if she continued to snub an inquiry being conducted by the House of Representatives on drug trafficking at the national penitentiary.
“I’ll be forced to issue an arrest warrant,” Alvarez told the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Alvarez was responding to a question about his next move should De Lima decide to ignore the show cause order for her to appear before the House committee on justice.
The order was issued after her former driver and lover Ronnie Dayan testified last week that she prevented him from attending the House inquiry on the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Dayan said he was willing to attend the hearing, but De Lima reportedly advised him to ignore it and remain in hiding.
Alvarez said they have been lenient with De Lima since the start of the probe. He said they had told her she could drop by if she wanted to, and that the House did not issue an official invitation for her to be present during the entire duration of the hearing.
He said it was obvious the House accorded De Lima inter-parliamentary courtesy.
“We invited her, she declined, so parliamentary courtesy, that’s OK. We subpoena a witness, Dayan, whose name was always mentioned in the hearing. She advised him not to attend and remain hiding. Is that parliamentary courtesy?” Alvarez asked.
“Who violated parliamentary courtesy? An offense has been committed against the institution. For our part, we respect the Senate,” he added.
Alvarez said a senator should not meddle with any legitimate proceeding of the House.
“It is an individual offense committed by Senator De Lima, not by the Senate,” he said.
The Speaker said this was the first time he heard of a senator interfering with House proceedings.
“A senator, a high government official at that ,telling a witness to hide? That’s wrong under any standards,” he said, noting De Lima’s alleged lack of respect for their institution.
House leaders said they accorded De Lima more than her entitled courtesy, but she is not above the law, given the consistent testimonies on her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas defended the House’s issuance of a show cause order against the former justice secretary, especially in the light of her advice for Dayan to ignore the hearing.
“It covers everyone. No one is above the law. She’s not exempted, even Cabinet secretaries, we can issue a warrant against them. Only the President enjoys immunity from suit,” Fariñas said, referring to the show cause order.
Citing several jurisprudential cases, Fariñas said Congress, which includes the Senate and the House, could not be helpless.
“We are useless if we have no compulsory powers. We extended her inter-chamber courtesy, that’s why we did not issue any invitation,” he said.
Fariñas said lawmakers have been silent even as De Lima berated them for the supposed script they purportedly made to satisfy their objective to persecute her.
“Where is the respect of Senator De Lima to the House?” Farinas asked. “In the first place, she was invited to the hearings. At the very least, she should have sent a lawyer.”
If indeed they made a script out of Dayan’s testimony, this should have matched with the sworn affidavit of self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, particularly on the dates of his meetings with De Lima’s former driver for the handover of payoffs.
Fariñas lamented that while congressmen have not meddled in the affairs of the Senate, senators have criticized the manner by which the House committee conducted the hearing last week, describing it as sexually offensive.
He said among the options the House has against De Lima is to issue a show cause order or an arrest warrant, cite her in contempt, file a case in an ordinary court or a disbarment case with the Supreme Court (SC).
“Perhaps a last recourse would be to file a complaint before the Senate ethics committee.”
Alvarez defended the lawmakers’ line of questioning for Dayan, saying these were relevant to the inquiry.
He took exception to criticisms that House members lost sight of the issue when they asked Dayan to detail his affair with De Lima.
“If you look at the whole picture, there is a connection because here is a woman pretending to be clean, righteous, graft-buster, crime buster. But here also are the allegations against her. How can you demolish her credibility?” Alvarez asked.
He said the hearing showed De Lima has a propensity for using her subordinates, such as Dayan and Presidential Security Group aide Joenel Sanchez – both of whom were romantically involved with her – to collect payoffs from drug lords.
“We want to prove that this person is lying. We need to present to the public her whole personality, her whole being or what kind of a person she is,” Alvarez said.
He said the lawmakers’ questions helped determine Dayan’s credibility as a witness.
The affair De Lima-Dayan may become a basis for the possible amendment of the anti-nepotism law.
Fariñas said the illicit affair would have been fine if they were still in a private law firm, and not when De Lima joined public service.
He said De Lima hired Dayan when she was assigned at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2008 and Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2010.
Fariñas said they would push for a prohibition in appointing a girlfriend or boyfriend, or a live-in partner, if only to modify or update the anti-nepotism law.
“The Speaker and I are sure that a majority of the House members will support us when we file an amendment to nepotism law,” Fariñas said.
He said the amendment would be just one of the results of the House inquiry on the NBP illegal drug trade being conducted “in aid of legislation.”
The present law prohibits any government official from appointing his relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity to a public office.
The Supreme Court (SC) was again asked to disbar De Lima for her romantic liaison with Dayan.
In a supplemental complaint filed with the high court yesterday, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) submitted documents showing De Lima and Dayan’s admissions of their illicit affair.
The group said De Lima’s public admission and Dayan’s testimony at the House hearing were enough to prove that the senator committed gross immorality that should warrant the cancellation of her license as a lawyer.
Former National Bureau of Investigation deputy directors Ruel Lasala and Reynaldo Esmeralda joined the VACC in filing the supplemental complaint.
They submitted Dayan’s admission that he had an affair with De Lima while he remained legally married to his wife.
The complaint also cited De Lima’s message telling Dayan’s daughter that he should snub the subpoena issued by the House panel.
“Senator De Lima’s act of urging Dayan to snub the committee hearings suggests her disregard of the rule of law. What she initiated was obstruction of justice, a disrespect to a co-equal institution,” VACC chairman Dante Jimenez said.
“She was making a mockery of our justice system, which is ironic considering her previous post as justice secretary,” he added.