Both accused of heinous crimes

February 28,2017 - 09:04 PM

President Duterte and Sen. Leila de Lima are both accused of heinous crimes — crimes that would merit the death penalty if Congress were to pass that odious measure. Both claim innocence, dismissing the accusations as attempts at political demolition.

For Mr. Duterte, the accusations date back to the early days of his mayoralty in Davao City. They revolve around the existence of a “Davao Death Squad” that he allegedly commanded, and ordered to kill drug dealers, criminals and even political enemies. Last year, Edgar Matobato was the first supposed member of the squad to publicly attest to its existence. A few days ago, the supposed leader of the squad, SPO3 Arturo Lascañas, now retired, recanted his previous denial and made even more serious accusations, implicating Mr. Duterte in the slay of journalist Jun Pala in 2003 — and the bombing of mosques in 1993.

De Lima began to be implicated in 2014, when she was justice secretary. That year, her critics accused her of being selective, or half-hearted, in going after the lavish lifestyles of drug lords held in the New Bilibid Prison. These accusations took stronger form last year, with De Lima allegedly accepting millions of pesos in drug money, as claimed by convicted drug lords, two officers of the National Bureau of Investigation and even her former driver and lover, Ronnie Dayan. But with only inconsistent testimonies and no documentary evidence to draw on, no cases were filed — that is, until last week, when the Department of Justice finally charged De Lima with drug trafficking.

The two archenemies figure prominently in the history of each other’s accusations. As chair of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima went to Davao in 2009 and berated Mr. Duterte for the killings — by her recollection, their first encounter and what drove him to embark on a personal vendetta against her. As justice secretary, De Lima would go on to investigate the DDS but, ostensibly for lack of witnesses, nothing prospered. It was only when she became senator that she presented Matobato in the Senate — an act that cost her the chairmanship of the committee on justice.

For his part, it was Mr. Duterte who unleashed the recent round of attacks on the neophyte senator — the staunchest critic of his deadly war on drugs.

In September 2016 he produced a piece of paper showing the senator atop a drug matrix, and accused her of being a drug protector. Next came the testimonies of the convicted drug lords.

“If you cannot trust the testimony of confessed hit men who have everything to lose, including their own lives, then surely you cannot trust the testimony of convicted drug lords who have everything to gain, including their freedom,” De Lima’s supporters say.

“The recycled accusations against Duterte never prospered, even when De Lima was justice secretary,” the President’s supporters counter. “It is obvious that this is a distraction amid her impending arrest.” (Curiously, his critics say the same thing: that De Lima is a distraction from all the administration’s woes.)

“I don’t know who to believe anymore,” lamented Gabby, 19, a college student in Diliman who voted for Mr. Duterte in the 2016 election but was also sympathetic to De Lima when her personal life was laid bare. He has since been blocking political posts on Facebook: one of our country’s growing number of political agnostics.

Even if it’s true, nothing will come out of an impeachment case because the administration “controls the House,” said Sen. Dick Gordon, who replaced De Lima as chair of the committee of justice, of Lascañas’ exposé.

And he brings us to the point where the trajectories of the two accusations diverge. Accusations are supposed to be resolved by their truthfulness, but in Philippine politics, it does not matter who between the accused, if any, is guilty — or worthy of arrest with probable cause. Immune from suit and unimpeachable in his popularity, Mr. Duterte can sit back and relax in Malacañang while De Lima languishes in jail.

How great is the difference between the fates of the “innocent”!

Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.

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TAGS: Congress, Duterte, Leila De Lima, New Bilibid Prison, politcis, politics, Rodrigo Duterte

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