De Lima slams abuse of presidential power

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - She was emotional and admitted to having “some degree of fear,” but Sen. Leila de Lima yesterday vowed not to be silenced as she decried the “abuse and misuse” of executive power by President Duterte when he came out with personal and other attacks against her.

De Lima, after delivering her statement to reporters at midmorning, caught up with the Senate hearing on the multisectoral campaign against illegal drugs.

She vowed to continue with her investigation next week into the apparent extrajudicial killings in the course of the Chief Executive’s war on drugs.

Duterte the other day alleged De Lima’s married driver, whom he also branded as her lover, collected money from illegal drug operators at the New Bilibid Prison. He said the senator seemed to have benefited from it but did not provide evidence to back his accusations.

De Lima maintained she would answer the allegations against her before the proper forum and that she would continue to fulfill her duties, though some people advised her to keep quiet so not to fan the controversy. Others, she said, expressed support and asked her to defend herself.

“Tama na po ang pananakot at panghihiya. Bumalik na po tayo sa kaayusan na dulot ng pag-iiral ng batas at simpleng respeto sa kapwa tao (Enough with threats and shaming. Let us go back to civility by allowing the law and simple respect for a fellowman to prevail). I have always been loyal to my oath as a public servant. I am not the enemy here. Stop portraying me as one,” De Lima said.

The Liberal Party, under whose banner De Lima ran and won in the last elections, and some other lawmakers came to her defense, saying there must be respect and civility in public discourse.

De Lima and “our people deserve the facts, not innuendo,” the LP said. 

In a press conference held at the Senate yesterday morning, De Lima expressed fear and concern for her family and loved ones as a result of current developments and said she had second thoughts about pushing through with the inquiry she set in relation to the alleged summary executions of drug suspects.

But she decided she must not be cowed.

Reading a prepared statement, De Lima, her voice at times quivering, said she never expected to be up against the country’s highest official, a battle which she said was clearly lopsided.

“How does one defend oneself, when the attacker is immune from suit and has all the backing of executive power to support him in his personal attack? This is no less than abuse and misuse of executive power,” De Lima said.

“I don’t think the Constitution has ever contemplated such abuse of power on such scale, as it assumes every President to conduct himself in a manner befitting the office he holds. It seems that this is not the case for this President,” she added.

De Lima aired her suspicion that the attacks against her by the President was his way of trying to put a stop to the inquiry she initiated as chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.

The hearing, set on Aug. 22 and 23, goes into the heart of the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the President. Over a thousand deaths, both involving police operations and extra-legal means, have been recorded since Duterte assumed the presidency last June 30.

De Lima has raised alarm over the killings, some of which she said bore telltale signs of summary executions.

“If this is his way of stopping the Senate’s investigation on the extrajudicial killings, he can try until he finally silences me or the Senate. But I think it is already clear that what is being done to me is what will happen to anyone who does not bow to the wishes of the President,” De Lima said.

De Lima said that she considered cancelling the inquiry to avoid personal attacks, but said doing so would be a betrayal of her principles.

She said it “would mean turning back on my own person and denying my own principles and beliefs.”

“I will no longer stand as the people’s representative in the Senate. That would be my fake figure standing there. It’s like burying my own whole being,” she added.

De Lima neither confirmed nor denied the allegations made by the President, as she was expecting the administration to file cases against her. It is only then that she will respond, if she is allowed to do so, the senator said.

“Mas nanaisin ko na kayo at inyong gobyerno ang magbaon sa akin kaysa ako ang magbaon sa aking sarili (I would rather let you and your government bury me, rather than me burying myself),” De Lima said.

“I will respond in a proper forum. I cannot engage publicly with the President sa mga ganyang punto (on these points) because that’s too foul, that’s too personal,” she added.

De Lima appealed to the President to keep an open mind and hear her side of the story before engaging in more attacks against her.

“Kahit iyon lang po sana ay ibigay ninyo sa akin, ang pagkakataon na ipagtanggol ang aking sarili, lalo na po sa isang kalagayan na ang Pangulo na ng bansa ang nagdeklara na siya ang aking kalaban at personal na nag-aakusa sa akin (Please just give me that, the opportunity to defend myself, especially since this is a situation where the President of the country himself declared that he was my enemy and personally accused me),” she said.

“Pangulo po kayo. Senador lamang po ako. Patas na laban lamang po ang aking hinihingi (You are president. I am just a senator. A fair game is the only thing I ask),” De Lima said.

If the President is intent on pursuing his tirades against her, De Lima appealed that he spare her colleagues, friends and family.

Give her due process

In backing De Lima, the LP called on the Senate to uphold its independence and stressed that the party “stands for free and open debate, for due process of law.”

The LP said De Lima was doing her job as a senator and “she deserves support, not condemnation; respect, and not gutter language.”

“Nakakalungkot ang mga salita at mga paratang na naninira sa kanyang pagkatao at pagiging lingkod bayan (The words and accusations destroying her character and standing as public servant are sad),” the LP said.

To this end, LP called on Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III to uphold the independence of the Senate whose membership, it said, must always be vigorously supported in fulfilling the people’s mandate to make inquiries in aid of legislation.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who also ran under LP, branded the President’s remarks against De Lima as “misogynistic.”

“His statements depart from the government’s commitment to transparency since one of the best ways to pursue truth is through healthy deliberations driven by facts,” Hontiveros said.

“Moreover, the remarks were extremely unpresidential and a breach of parliamentary courtesy. It unnecessarily sets the executive and Senate on a dangerous collision course,” Hontiveros added.

Hontiveros called on her colleagues in the Senate to “rise to the challenge and defend the integrity of one of its members.”

But Sen. Richard Gordon said that there was no need for the Senate to take a stand in defense of De Lima because it was her personal problem.

Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin said Duterte’s verbal assault on De Lima “is unbecoming and uncalled for” as the President resorted to “putrid and vitriolic language” against the senator’s personality instead of “boldly facing criticism, raising the level of discourse and arguing on the basis of policy.”

He said if Duterte intended to stop the senator from pursuing her inquiry into alleged extrajudicial killings, “we remind the President, using his own words in the campaign trail, that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing to fear.”

“Being popular does not give anyone the excuse, much less the right, to intentionally inflict personal harm upon others. No one can ever be right in doing something that is inherently wrong, not even the President,” he added.

Villarin pointed out that by looking into reportedly extrajudicial killings, De Lima was just doing her job as a senator.

Rep. Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands also said De Lima should not be discouraged by “insults.”

“We should show the strength of women in building a nation that is morally upright and that values the life and dignity of its people. I stand with you, Sen. Leila de Lima,” she said. With Jess Diaz

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