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Ouster by 16 senators as justice committee chair ‘hurt’ — De Lima

Former senator Leila De Lima describes her ouster as chairperson of the chamber’s committee on justice and human rights in 2016 as shameless.

Jul 8, 2024

Marian Sumbillo

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4-minute read

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De Lima: “There’s no basis for me with which to say kung on good terms pa talaga ako sa kanila.” PHOTO: BULLIT MARQUEZ

Former senator Leila De Lima describes her ouster as chairperson of the chamber’s committee on justice and human rights in 2016 as shameless. And that move by 16 of her colleagues was offensive. 

“Of course may hinanakit ako. That was brazen. I was just doing my job,” she told VERA Files senior editor Tress Martelino-Reyes in the July 3 episode of Tres from Tress podcast. 

Ten of the 16 senators who voted to oust her are incumbents: Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Cynthia Villar, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Loren Legarda and Grace Poe. Sen. Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara was recently named Education secretary while Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan II, Richard Gordon and Manny Pacquiao had served their two-term limit. Gordon replaced De Lima as committee chair.

When asked about her relations with these lawmakers today, there was a short pause. The former secretary of Justice ran her hand through her hair, clenched her jaw, and her eyes turned flat. 

But always diplomatic, she said there was no basis for her to say if she and her former colleagues still have friendly relations.   

“There’s no basis for me with which to say kung on good terms pa talaga ako sa kanila because, in the first place, of course, the whole duration of my incarceration, and mula ‘nung nakalaya ako noong November, wala pa akong chance na makipag-engage sa kanila, na makipag-usap,” she explained.

(There’s no basis for me with which to say if we’re on good terms because, in the first place, of course, the whole duration of my incarceration, and since I was released last November, I  have not had the chance to engage and talk with them.)

Only Sen. Risa Hontiveros, then-Senate president pro tempore Franklin Drilon, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino voted against De Lima’s ouster. 

Then-minority leader Ralph Recto and Antonio Trillanes IV abstained from voting.

De Lima lost the committee chairmanship on Sept. 19, 2016, four days after self-confessed Davao Death Squad hit man Edgar Matobato testified about the involvement of then-president Rodrigo Duterte in the killings of about 1,000 people in Davao City when he was its mayor for more than two decades. 

The 16 senators who ousted her gave various reasons for their vote,  including allegation that her inquiry on Duterte’s bloody drug war was meant to fulfill a personal political vendetta. Then-Senate majority leader Sotto even insinuated she was grandstanding and mudslinging.

Five months later, in February 2017, she was arrested following the filing of charges, alleging that she orchestrated a drug trafficking ring and received money from convicted drug dealers inside the New Bilibid Prisons when she was secretary of Justice from 2010 to 2015. 

She was detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame for almost seven years until she was released on bail in November 2023, and finally cleared of all charges last June 24.

Although she was in detention, she remained a senator and member of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights. She had wanted to still attend plenary sessions and committee hearings online. 

“They did not allow me to participate. I asked for that. Na kahit selected hearings lang, selected plenary sessions lang on important issues. But they did not allow. The courts also did not allow me,” De Lima said. 

In June 2020, she requested the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court to attend Senate sessions via teleconferencing from her quarters in Camp Crame. It was denied.

While in detention, De Lima shared that some of her former colleagues, both allies and critics, were in touch with her. Some sent gifts and cards on special occasions like Christmas or on her birthday, even Valentine’s Day, which she appreciated.

Two of those who voted to unseat her as committee chair – Pimentel and Sotto – visited to check on her condition at the Custodial Center when they were Senate president.

Legarda, Villar and Gordon, who replaced her as chairperson of the justice committee, sent gifts.

But none of them apologized for turning their backs on her. 

Hontiveros, Drilon, Pangilinan, Aquino and Trillanes were frequent visitors. 

Since her acquittal, De Lima said she has been overwhelmed by the attention and support she has been receiving.  She said, however, that she would rather not be considered a hero. 

I try to avoid romanticizing my role in everything. It’s just about doing the right thing,” she said, responding to praises from the public.

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