Leila ousted as panel chair
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2016 - 12:00am

Palace denies hand Matobato to testify anew

MANILA, Philippines - Voting 16-4, senators last night ousted their colleague Leila de Lima as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights for allegedly using the inquiry into drug-related extrajudicial killings to destabilize the Duterte administration and destroy the image of the country before the international community.

De Lima’s removal through a no-confidence vote by members of the Senate majority was unprecedented in recent history. It was preceded by rumors of a shake-up in the chamber over the weekend after self-confessed hit man Edgar Matobato, during a hearing of the panel last week, accused President Duterte of being responsible for the killings of over 1,000 people when he was mayor of Davao City.

Sen. Richard Gordon replaced De Lima as chairman of the committee in plenary after the senators emerged from a two-hour closed-door caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the hearing on the extrajudicial killings would continue this week.

Malacañang denied any hand in De Lima’s ouster, with Presidential Communications Office chief Martin Andanar saying last night that Congress “is a separate branch of government so we leave things to its leadership.”

De Lima remains a member of the justice committee together with Panfilo Lacson as new committee vice chairman, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Francis Pangilinan and Alan Peter Cayetano.

The members of the panel from the minority bloc have not been named.

“Of course, I’m angry but the battle is not yet over,” De Lima told reporters before joining the caucus, apparently aware that she was about to be ousted.

 Sen. Alan Cayetano is shown in a huddle with Senators Vicente Sotto III and Manny Pacquiao, who moved to declare all seats in the justice committee vacant. GEREMY PINTOLO

De Lima said she did not say much as she knew her ouster was a “fait accompli,” part of the concerted efforts of the Duterte administration to silence her and cover up the spate of extrajudicial killings.

“You can be assured that in the face of all this persecution, I will continue to fight for the truth and continue my duties as a senator,” she said.

Voting for De Lima were Sens. Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto and his bloc that includes Sens. Francis Escudero and Antonio Trillanes IV did not participate as the issue concerns the majority.

Trillanes, however, has been siding with De Lima since the hearings started. Escudero was absent from the session.

It was Pacquiao who made a motion to declare the chairmanship and membership of the committee on justice and human rights vacant amid protests from Drilon, De Lima’s partymate in the Liberal Party (LP).

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III suspended session and called for a caucus.

But it was the privilege speech of Cayetano against De Lima that set the stage for the move when he asked the chamber to have her replaced.

Cayetano said De Lima, along with Trillanes, was not really interested in the truth behind the extrajudicial killings but was bent on discrediting Duterte, and “wittingly and unwittingly” destroying the country’s image using the international media.

He said the Senate was also being damaged as an institution in the way De Lima ran roughshod over her colleagues in the committee and tried to silence them when they were out to test the credibility of Matobato.

 Sen. Richard Gordon accepts the chairmanship of the committee. GEREMY PINTOLO 

De Lima’s bias against the President was obvious from the start when she repeatedly maintained the extrajudicial killings were “state-inspired.”

“She makes it seem like the whole country is for extrajudicial killings, immensely giving the impression that our people are not civilized, that we are not modern people without strong moral values just because he (Duterte) is very popular and the people are fed up with drug lords,” Cayetano said.

“Is the President the grim reaper? Is the President liable for the deaths? He is here to save the innocent from being killed by drug pushers, addicts. He is here to save the children of OFWs from being pressured by their peers to use drugs. We have to save our country,” he continued.

He said ordinary people now feel safer if De Lima and other critics would care to ask them.

He said he fears for the OFWs as they could also be subjected to negative reporting in their countries where they work.

Foreign rating agencies are also scheduled to arrive in the country in the coming weeks and their assessment could be clouded by negative reports and thus impact on the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

While the country’s economic fundamentals are strong, the rating agencies could give failing marks on “political risk,” he warned. 

“For every foreign tourist in country, two jobs are created. How many jobs have been lost because we focused too much on extrajudicial killings?” Cayetano said.

He said Duterte was fighting three wars: “the war against poverty, which includes leveling a playing field that by and large only oligarchs grow and prosper, while the greater majority struggles just to survive; the war against crime, illegal drugs, and corruption; the war on war, or the quest for a just and inclusive peace and an end to the decades-long communist insurgency as well as other rebellions in our country.

“In the end, we might all lose this war. But the biggest loser will not be President Duterte. It will be the economy, the political institutions, and the entire nation,” the senator said.

Sen. Leila de Lima walks out during the privilege speech of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano at the Senate yesterday. GEREMY PINTOLO

De Lima walked out as Cayetano was a few minutes into his privilege speech and proceeded to her office. She however was asked to join the caucus as the closed-door meeting was already going on for an hour. 

Apparently aware what was coming, Drilon tried to call for a suspension of session to stop Cayetano from delivering his speech but was outvoted.

Senators declined to give details on what transpired during the meeting except that Drilon tried to stop De Lima’s ouster, saying there was no rule allowing it.

He, however, was told that there was no rule prohibiting it either.

Pimentel told reporters the ouster was for the sake of the country and denied that Duterte – his partymate in PDP-Laban – had a hand in it.

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