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Leila de Lima: Justice without fear or favor

Justice Sec. Leila de Lima has been a controversial figure during these past five years of the P-Noy administration. One wonders if she deliberately courts controversy. But, for this Justice Secretary, controversy is the natural offshoot of a public figure who truly implements “justice without fear or favor.”

From the  beginning of her term, it is apparent she understood she was entering a political battle field. In her opening speech during her confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments, June 4, 2014 she said:

“ Some have called me a controversial public figure. I will not and cannot deny . Back when I was the Chairperson of the Commission of Human Rights, public advocacy was our most effective and important weapon against the then prevailing culture of silence and impunity – a time when people including journalists were threatened with both legal and extralegal action against exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

She explained that when the Supreme Court ruled that the CHR had no legal powers – being heard and being seen by the public was their best weapon. She had already been acting as Justice Secretary for four years prior to her confirmation hearing. She explained to the committee about the controversies during her tenure:

“But, I never asked to be controversial. In fact, it would have been impossible to remain uncontroversial when high profile cases keep arising. The only way perhaps to keep a low profile is not to do anything worth public notice. Therefore, I take being called a controversial public figure for what it is – an indication that I am being true to my commitment real and proven these last four years of taking all the challenges that remain ahead.”

Justice Sec. De Lima has developed a reputation for being blunt and frank in her choice of words to describe what she perceives as cases where there has been selective justice. She is best known for her handling of the highly publicized pork barrel scandals which has resulted in three senators – Enrile, Revilla, Estrada – placed in jail. But she has been just as outspoken in other cases.

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I remember the Phoenix Petroleum smuggling case back in 2013. The Department of Justice had initially filed a P5 billion smuggling against Phoenix Petroleum CEO Dennis Ang Uy and his customs broker Capiin Cabanes. Then a Division of the Court of Appeals suddenly issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which effectively prevented the DOJ from going ahead with the case against Phoenix Petroleum and Cabanes.

Secretary de Lima used blunt language. She noted that two of Court of Appeals justices who issued the TRO, Francisco Acosta and Angelita Gacutan, were also the same justices who issued the decision ordering the Department of Justice to withdraw its syndicated estafa case against Globe Asiatique head Cristina Sagun. The same two justices — Acosta and Gacutan —  were in the same Court of Appeals Division that invalidated a DOJ finding of probable cause to charge the former Palawan governor, Joel Reyes,  of murder for the death of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega. De Lima said:

“I will ask the Office of the Solicitor General to articulate these matters. Pero sagutin muna nila bakit ganoon, coincidence lang ba yun na at least the two justices [Acosta and Gacutan] are the same justices in a previous case where they enjoined the DOJ? Why can’t they just let us file in court?”

More recently Secretary de Lima called the Supreme Court ruling allowing Enrile to post bail based on humanitarian grounds as making the country a “ banana republic.”

Leila de Lima is the eldest daughter of the former Comelec Commissioner Vicente de Lima. She was born and raised in Iriga City in the province of Camarines Sur, the largest province in the Bicol region. She graduated from De La Salle University-Manila with Bachelor of Arts in History. She then finished law at the San Beda College of Law and placed 8th in 1985 Bar examinations.

She was appointed as Chair of the Commission on Human Rights and became Secretary of the Department of Justice by President Benigno Aquino III in 2010.

Justice Secretary de Lima, COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales were the three furies who were at the front lines in bringing to justice those who were involved in the multibillion peso PDAF scandals.

Leila de Lima has continued to remain very controversial. But, I agree that controversy goes with the territory and will continue for as long as she continues her mission of “justice without fear or favor.” I will begin to worry only if this Justice Secretary stops being controversial.

The challenge of inner justice

During her speech before members of the Makati Business Club, Secretary de Lima talked about inclusive justice. She said:

“Justice cannot be for the few, or the rich, or the well connected. It must be for every man, woman and child regardless of social, economic or political background. Justice must not be corroded, it cannot be partial, it ought to be complete.

Inclusive justice, in truth, often imposes a heavy burden upon those mandated to implement it, for it requires equal application to all regardless – and at times precisely because – of the status of those who find themselves the subject of its scrutiny. The words ‘Justice without fear or favor’ takes on a whole new dimension when those who ought to have acted within the bounds of law, and should have shown utmost respect for it are the ones caught flouting it... thus becomes incumbent upon us, the vanguards of justice to discharge the sacred duty of proving that no one is above the law – not those in the executive, the legislative or judicial branch of government – and that no one can defy it with impunity. After, all between justice and impunity, there can be no choice.“

But, in front of the most prominent businessmen in the country she talked of a greater challenge especially for those who are rich and powerful. She called this responsibility of the elite as “inner justice.”

“Above all, though, we can only hope to succeed as collective only when the one essential component of “inclusive justice” is in place. This is the requirement of ‘inner justice.’ There is inner justice when we treat our spouses and children with respect and love. There is inner justice when we refuse to pay bribes regardless of the cost or inconvenience. There is inner justice when we give clear instructions to our lawyers, agents to not cut corners or engage in under the table transactions for the sake of business. There is inner justice when we stop rationalizing our actions but instead discern on what truly is the right thing to do. “

Institutionalizing the rule of law is not the sole responsibility of the government, but of the whole society, especially the rich and the powerful. Justice without fear  or favor can only be attained if the people especially the elite accepts this challenge of “inner justice.”

Where the Write Things Are’s  Classes for Kids and Teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on  Sept. 5 (11 am-12:30 pm) at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. Classes are every first Saturday of the month. 

Write Away! Weekend: Getting started on your comic book on Sept. 26 (1-4 pm) with popular cartoonist and writer Manix Abrera at the Canadian American School Alphaland Makati Place.

For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196 / writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

 

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