By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Sen Leila De Lima and seven others were charged before the Department of Justice (DOJ) by an anti-crime watchdog over their alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
Also named as respondents by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) were former Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu, De Lima’s former bodyguard and alleged boyfriend Ronnie Dayan, her former security aides Joenel Sanchez and Jose Adrian Dera, convicted drug lord Jaybee Sebastian and Wilfredo Ely, alleged bagman of Bucayu.
For her part, De Lima said “this is most welcome.” Instead of stoning her in a House inquiry, she said “they should start filing cases in the proper venue.”
“But the lawyers of VACC and Atty. Topacio should know that such a case against me for acts done while Secretary of Justice should be filed with the Ombudsman, not the DOJ,” she said.
Although the DOJ may initially take cognizance, she noted that the case against her would eventually only be filed by the DOJ with the Ombudsman for another round of fact-finding investigation.
In the meantime, she said the complainants would have wasted time by filing it with the DOJ. In the interest of the speedy administration of justice, they should have directly filed this complaint with the Ombudsman, not the DOJ.
“Unless they have other reasons for filing it with the DOJ instead of the Ombudsman. Maybe because that is the domain of Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre, the master of fakery. Justice under Aguirre is (a) fake,” taunted De Lima, also a justice secretary under the previous administration.
House of Representative Justice Committee Chairperson Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali issued an arrest warrant against Dayan, De Lima’s former driver/bodyguard, whom President Rodrigo Duterte said was her former boyfriend and who allegedly collected drug money to bankroll her senatorial bid in the last May elections.
The warrant was issued against Dayan after he was cited in contempt for snubbing the congressional inquiry into the proliferation of drugs in the NBP.
Senior Supt. Ronald Lee, acting provincial director of Pangasinan, said they have started hunting Dayan in Urbiztondo, his hometown in Pangasinan. He said Dayan was last seen in Urbiztondo about three or four weeks ago after he became controversial due to his alleged links with De Lima.
The VACC also offered PHP 100,000 reward for information on Dayan’s whereabouts.
In the complaint-affidavit, VACC president Dante Jimenez accused the respondents of violating the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, particularly the provision that outlaws the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical.”
The penalty under the law is life imprisonment and a fine ranging from PHP 500,000 to PHP 10 million.
The complaint was based on allegations that De Lima, in conspiracy with the other respondents, allowed and benefited from the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the NBP during her term as Justice Secretary.
Jimenez alleged that the respondents were involved in the illegal drug trade inside and outside the NBP from 2012 to 2016.
The complaint said De Lima, Bucayu, Dayan, Sanchez, Dera and Sebastian were able to conspire with one another to perpetuate “a massive drug trade inside the Bilibid [prison] through the influence and power exercised by the Office of the Secretary of Justice, though then Secretary De Lima.”
The complainant also said De Lima used her authority to appoint and designate men inside the NBP to make drug transactions easy in the prison.
With regards to Sebastian, the VACC said he acted as one of the lieutenants of De Lima and Baraan in seeing to it that drug lords inside the prison complied with the demands of the drug trade.
Sebastian on Monday testified before a congressional panel that he raised PHP 10 million in campaign funds from the sale of illegal drugs in the NBP for De Lima when she was still Justice Secretary.
He also said De Lima was more of “a protector” than “an accomplice” in the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary. He stressed that De Lima was to blame for the proliferation of illegal drugs in the NBP.
De Lima strongly denied the accusations and insisted Sebastian, another high-profile inmate at Bilibid, was already “pushed (against) the wall” to testify lies against her.
On the other hand, the VACC accused Dayan and Sanchez of being the bagmen of De Lima who collected the drug money from Sebastian. But Sebastian had denied knowing Dayan and told the House hearing that he gave Sanchez the drug money intended for De Lima.
The anti-crime group cited the testimony given by convicted inmates led by Herbert Colanggo during the hearing of the House committee on justice inquiring into the proliferation of the illegal drug trade inside the NBP.
It noted that Colanggo and several other witnesses were able to give details on how the illegal drug trade was being conducted inside the NBP upon the protection and intervention of De Lima with the help of the other respondents.
Colanggo also testified that he started giving money to De Lima through Sanchez starting in October 2013, allegedly to fund her senatorial campaign, with payments reaching PHP 3 million just before he and 18 other high-profile inmates were transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation in December 2014, paving the way for Sebastian to take control of the drug operation in the NBP, allegedly with the blessings of De Lima.
The VACC said the transfer of the so-called Bilibid 19 was “calculated, planned and pre-meditated” to consolidate the drug trade under the control of Sebastian and De Lima.
It added that De Lima had motive to allow the proliferation of illegal drugs in the NBP, which was to gather funds for her senatorial bid.
Before the 2013 mid-term elections, the VACC said De Lima was reported to have spent PHP 86.15 million.
“For all the advertisements she contracted during the election campaign, where would she get the money from? One could not turn a blind eye on her actual source of fund. She had generous benefactors from inside the Bilibid. This explains why she never had second thoughts about running for one of the highest political positions in the country,” the complaint said.
The VACC also questioned the reason why De Lima undertook the raid at the NBP but excluded Philippine National Police Deputy Chief for Operations Director Benjamin Magalong, who had planned the raid.
It noted that it was also questionable that De Lima ordered the transfer of the 19 high-profile inmates to the NBI but excluded Sebastian, a known drug lord Jaybee Sebastian and make numerous personal visits at the NBP and even at the huts of high-profile inmates at the NBP before and after the December 2014 raids.
“Each one of them had played significant roles in order to ensure the perpetuation of the illegal drug trade inside the Bilibid. Sen. De Lima, through her authority as the secretary of Justice, was able to put in position her cohorts at the BuCor to enable her to maneuver the drug trade,” the complaint said.
“Her influence and power likewise offered respondents in this case… protection to ensure invisibility in the conduct of their illegal trade,” the complaint added.
Meanwhile, De Lima is set to embark on a legal counter-offensive to protect her from what she described as “President Duterte’s blatant abuse of power.”
As part of legal moves against Duterte and her critics, De Lima said she would file petitions before the Supreme Court (SC).
De Lima said she intends to file petitions for the issuance of a writ of habeas data and writ of amparo before the SC that will also, in effect, test the doctrine of presidential immunity from suits.
“We’re contemplating on cases where I will implead the President himself. Because of the extent and atrociousness of what they’re doing to me and what they’ve done to me,” De Lima said.
“I don’t think the authors of the doctrine of the president’s immunity from suit have ever comprehended a situation like this where there is blatant abuse of power,” she also said.
A writ of amparo means the SC would direct the executive branch to ensure that no harm befalls the senator. The issuance of a writ of habeas data, on the other hand, would compel the government to produce documents and information that is sought by the petitioner.
De Lima earlier stressed she no longer felt safe and considered herself as a “dead woman walking” because of death threats that she has been receiving.
Her lawyers are also preparing a battery of charges to be filed against certain officials of the Duterte administration before the Office of the Ombudsman and the courts for their acts of persecution and oppression.
Among the charges De Lima may file against administration officials are violations of the anti-graft law, violations of the code of conduct of public officials, disbarment and civil action for damages.
“Of course it would require massive legal work and my constraint is time because I have to work in the Senate and money, but I do need and I cry for justice,” she said.