EDITORIAL - Too much of a de Lima

The Freeman

What is with justice secretary Leila de Lima? If she is not talking like she is the greatest legal expert around, she behaves like she is the greatest moral authority on the planet. At the national convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Cebu City, de Lima said she will be prohibiting government prosecutors and their staff from receiving allowances from the local governments where they are assigned to ensure their independence and restore public trust.

It is common knowledge that government prosecutors, and even judges, are sometimes given allowances by local governments that can afford to do so. Was de Lima then indicting these prosecutors and judges of having their independence compromised by the allowances they receive? Is she implying that these prosecutors and judges can be bought?

On the other hand, granting for the sake of argument that by simply receiving allowances from local governments these prosecutors and judges have compromised themselves, how sure then is de Lima that they cannot be compromised by other means and by other sources as well? If she went so far as to make broad hints about the corruptibility of these people, why then doesn't she directly name and bring charges against them?

The allowances from local governments to prosecutors and judges are presumed to be given in good faith, as a means of helping them cope with the costs of living. So unless de Lima has specific suspicions against anyone, she has no right casting aspersions on the integrity not only of the prosecutors and judges but also of the local governments themselves.

And if, in the eyes of de Lima, the integrity and independence of prosecutors and judges can rise or fall depending on whether or not they receive allowances, wouldn't it then do more harm than good if she prohibits them from receiving such allowances. If prosecutors and judges can be bought, as she seems to imply, wouldn't her act of depriving prosecutors and judges a vital form assistance in fact drive them into the very situation she supposedly wishes to avoid.

Allowances from local governments do not make or break prosecutors and judges. If prosecutors and judges can be bought, they will be bought, whether by local governments or by anybody else. And if they can be bought, they will be bought regardless of whether it is an allowance, a direct bribe, or just a favor. On the other hand, prosecutors and judges who cannot be bought will never be bought regardless of whether they receive allowances or not.

The problem with de Lima is that she feels so righteous and all-knowing. She thinks she owns the only right opinion in the universe. At the same IBP national convention, she could not pass up on the comments made by a justice of the Court of Appeals. When it was her turn to speak, she spoke out of turn by contradicting what the justice had said. A more circumspect and dignified speaker will not speak against another in the same forum.

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