February 23, 2017

Interview with ANC’s Karmina Constantino
21 FEBRUARY 2017

Q: Senator, how is the party doing in light of the recent events?

Well, of course we are, we’ve been meeting and it’s a serious cause for concern for us considering that we feel the filing of the charges before the Regional Trial Court is contrary to law because it’s not the Regional Trial Court that has jurisdiction over the cases of Senator De Lima but the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan. Plus of course the quality of the evidence taken from convicted drug traffickers and apparently that they may not be sued. There is a recommendation of the dropping of charges against them in this particular case. Maraming mga bagay na hindi tama at hindi tumutugma. The other consideration of course is the evidence itself. You have to have probable cause before you file charges. Based on the initial review of the information, there was no—they didn’t show proof of the—well, where is the shabu, where are the drugs? It was alleged. So allegations are not proof so these are serious and disturbing developments with respect to this case.

Q: Well we had Atty. Alex Padilla in the show last night and that s exactly what he is saying. He says there is no corpus delicti here. There’s no evidence here that really link Sen Leila De Lima to the illegal drug trade. And the fact that in the criminal information it says there that it was to prop up her senatorial campaign when she was getting funds allegedly from the illegal drug trade. That makes it sort of questionable why they even had to put that. He says it’s all political. What can you say about that?

I agree. We have to make decisions on the basis of proof. We have to file charges on the basis of the evidence that is available. Not mere allegations without the actual, as mentioned earlier, the actual material, the shabu itself. Where is it? Apart from that, the testimonies before the House of Representatives, and in exchange, there is immunity from the filing of charges, these are all disturbing. Ito na lang ba? Is this all they have? Is this the best they can do? And that’s why we are opposing it and of course we will have to respect our court processes at iyon naman ang ginagawa ni Senator De Lima. She has questioned the investigation being undertaken or was undertaken by the DOJ before the court of appeals.

Q: Well Senator, the liberal party senators came out with a statement yesterday calling the filing of charges patently illegal. The question is, why call it such when on the other side, they are saying the focus should not be on the person who allegedly committed the crime but the crime itself and this is a drug crime. And for that alone, it should remain under the jurisdiction of the RTC. Your thoughts on that.

Well we are expected to defend that, but the law says cases of this nature involving members of the cabinet, exclusive jurisdiction is with the Sandiganbayan. This is precisely why we believe that this is being tailor-fitted to be filed and justified to be filed before the Regional Trial Court because they have full access to and full influence over the prosecutors there, meaning the Department of Justice, and it’s not the case with the Ombudsman.

Q: You said a while ago that the party has been meeting with regard to the cases involving Senator De Lima. What conclusion have you arrived at in to far as to the answer why is this happening to one of your own. Have you come up with a conclusion? Is it really just Senator De Lima’s probe into the Davao Death Squad when she was head of the CHR, Senator Francis?

Well that’s precisely what the President said when this issue first came out. He said that Secretary De Lima, then chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, humiliated him, embarrassed him and that he would do everything to destroy her. This was precisely the initial statement. All Presidents are human, they make mistakes. They get angry, they get upset. But I think it is a mistake for the President to use his office to get even or settle a score many years ago. I think this is wrong and therefore we stand up against this and oppose this.

Q: So now that we’re waiting for the courts to determine if there is probable cause in all of the three cases against the Senator. What have you been meeting about? What’s gonna happen next if or when arrest warrants are issued against Senator De Lima?

Well we will cross the bridge when we get there in terms of answering your question. It hasn’t been issued yet. We wouldn’t want to think that by going to the discussions of if she is arrested—we’re still opposing that, we’re fighting that and hopefully the warrants of arrest precisely will not be issued because we believe the jurisdiction is not with the Regional Trial Court.

Q: Now, obviously this is happening against Senator Leila De Lima but what do you think would be the effect on the institution? The Senate as an institution.

Of course there would bearing in that sense and that is why we have to oppose it and make our stand known. But the Senate as an institution will survive this. I believe that we need to have a strong Senate, an independent Senate which is necessary for a strong democracy. Democracy should not be undermined and therefore that is why we are making this stand.

Q: Well, another thing happened in the Senate yesterday. As you were waiting for this press conference of Senator Leila De Lima. There was another one that went ahead. This time involving Arthur Lascanas, a former police officer who earlier said the Davao Death Squad does not exist. And now he is saying it does exist and he had all these allegations against President Rodrigo Duterte. Senator Richard Gordon is not about to re-open the probe into the EJKs, what’s gonna happen next? Are you going to forward this to another committee so that this committee could possibly look into the new statements of Arthur Lascanas?

Well the Senate did act on Lascanas’ latest allegations last night before the Senate adjourned. The matter was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Order and I believe the Senate Committee on Public Order chaired by Senator Lacson will be hearing this case. The reason why it is referred to the Public Order Committee, the Public Order Committee has jurisdiction over police matters and all these acts, alleged, by Lascanas happened when he was an active member of the Philippine National Police. So it was referred last night and we disagree that this is a waste of time for the Senate. If we were lied to, we’d like to know. If we’re interested in the truth it’s not enough to say that he said one thing today and then he is saying another thing tomorrow, and therefore we shouldn’t touch him. In fact I think it’s the obligation and duty of the Senate to look into this and figure out and find out if we’re being lied to, the Senate is interested to know the truth. If we’re being lied to, we should not just accept it and say the guy is lying and therefore that’s that. I beg to disagree. It is in the best interest of the Senate that we get to the truth and of course the country especially because the charges are serious. These are murder charges against the highest official of the land. For us to look at it in any other way, I think would be a dereliction of our duties as a check and balance of the other branches of government.

Q: Senator, what do you make of the resurfacing of Arthur Lascanas yesterday and the retraction of his earlier statements. Some people have the opinion that any retraction is not good and this really cast a doubt on his credibility.

Well and that’s why we want to hear him to be able to test his credibility to be able to throw questions at him and figure out whether he is credible or not. Kaya natin gagawin ito. Dahil ‘yan ang gusto nating malaman, ano ba talaga ang totoo. And that’s why we’re doing this. I think if he is cross-examined, if these questions are thrown at him and he proves—he wilts under pressure and again shows inconsistencies then we will know. But I think we should know, we ought to know. We are all interested in the truth.

Q: Did you know that he was gonna to resurface yesterday by way of the press conference?
No, I did not. There was information going around but I didn’t expect it to be yesterday.

Q: Many were quick to dismiss Lascanas’ resurfacing a sort of a diversionary tactic to get attention away from Senator Leila De Lima. But the lawyers who were with him yesterday, these lawyers are already considered institutions in the field of the defense of human rights. We have Arno Sanidad, Alex Padilla, Chel Diokno. So what can you say about those who were just quick to dismiss this as a diversionary tactic? Do you think these lawyers would put their name on the line for someone like Arthur Lascanas?

Well you know, I was a collaborating lawyer with Attys. Diokno, Sanidad and Padilla. Of course, they wouldn’t like this but, they’ve been around for the longest time. That’s giving away their age. They have been at the forefront of lost causes, so to speak. So, no, this is not a diversion. This is a serious matter that we have to look into because the charges are very serious.

Q: Earlier, I asked you about how the Liberal Party is doing. I’m gonna ask you now, you have a good relationship with Senator Leila De Lima, how is she doing? She’s been in the middle of this storm for so many months now. How is she?

Well, she’s only human but she’s tough. And we’re doing the best we can to provide her the necessary support and advice. It’s not easy to be in her situation for sure. And so we try to give her an objective assessment of what’s going so that we can guide her. But she’s tough. I don’t think this case will be enough to break this tough lady/woman. And you can see that. She’s a fighter. She said she’s not going down without a fight. That in itself is a testament to her grit and to her courage.

Q: The reason why you’re there in the Rockwell Studio because you wanted to be near the location where the Senator is going to hold her press conference today. What is that press conference going to be about and why is it so important for you to be with Senator De Lima at this point?

She was supposed to have a press conference yesterday and that got rescheduled. And I committed to lending my support precisely because we believe that these charges should not have been filed… we’re not saying that she should not be charged in that sense. If there are charges, it should be in the proper forum. We should not shortcut the process and in doing so undermine our court processes. We’re not saying that these charges should be dismissed altogether. We’re already here. There are serious allegations but let’s do it legally and file it before the proper courts and in this case, it should be the Sandiganbayan. This is our main issue here. We believe that the evidence is weak as well and the cases should be dismissed but these cases should be filed in the proper venue which is the Sandiganbayan and not the regional trial courts.

Watch the interview here