An interesting joust recently happened between two lawyers, one detained for drug charges and the other the chief adviser of the President, which offered a general view on some of the inherent problems in the body politic.
As the country grapples with the threats of killer typhoons and the coronavirus, the preoccupation was suddenly the release of Sen. Leila de Lima, who is facing drug trafficking charges, after a favorable outturn in one of the court hearings.
Since many of those in the Senate minority are lawyers, they should have had an appreciation of not intervening on an ongoing legal proceeding.
The priorities of the members of the august chamber are misplaced, and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the noise being generated in favor of De Lima is not needed since Filipinos are expecting a swift processing of the 2021 budget.
The Senate member has been in detention since February 2017, and has so far filed two distinct motions for bail, claiming her innocence.
“The colleagues of De Lima should focus on their duties on deliberating on the national budget and stop themselves from lawyering for De Lima. That’s not what the taxpayers pay them to do,” Panelo said.
De Lima and her yellow cohorts are making it appear that her ordeal is the result of political persecution, which the gullible foreign liberal democrats are all too willing to swallow hook, line and sinker.
Legislators in the European Union and the United States have taken great lengths to coerce the government into releasing De Lima, including threats of trade sanctions and a visa ban on members of the Duterte administration and the President’s allies.
The call for De Lima’s release was sparked by the testimonies of personnel of the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that they found no suspicious transactions linking the senator to the illegal drug trade that proliferated inside the New Bilibid Prison.
The senator, however, also faces allegations from detainees who swore that she received payoffs from them and the money came from the sale of narcotics.
“Let the court perform its duty. And let the rule of law prevail,” Panelo said.
The Senate minority bloc issued a statement, saying the testimonies from the government agencies were made under oath and thus the witnesses “had no reason not to tell the truth.”
Their assessment, however, was based on De Lima’s legal counsel Boni Tacardon’s claim.
Panelo said it was “foolhardy” for the minority senators to believe De Lima’s lawyer “as he will not make any statement against his client.”
“His (Tacardon’s) evaluation of the testimonial and documentary evidence favoring his client is expected and unsurprising. It is the Court hearing the case that will give evidentiary weight to the evidence presented before it,” he said.
Panelo said Baculi’s testimony does not exculpate De Lima because he never investigated her, and there were other witnesses that testified that she received money from drug lords.
Panelo said the testimonies merely indicated that no money flowed to the bank accounts of De Lima and one of her co-accused, Jose Adrian Dera, but they did not prove that she didn’t receive money at all.
“That testimony does not prove that she did not receive drug money. It can only mean she did not deposit the money she received from the drug lords in her bank account,” Panelo, who has extensive experience in court battles, added.
While Caseñas testified that there were no exchanges of any drug transactions between De Lima and Dera, based on the messages and call logs extracted from the cell phones, the senator could have made transactions through other means, Panelo, donning his hat as a legal veteran, said.
“The drug transactions need not be made through cell phones. It can be made through couriers. De Lima, as a lawyer, knows that bank accounts and messages and call logs on the mobile phones can be used as evidence,” he added.
“Regardless of the exuberant optimism of the opposition senators, the law must take its course. Let the court perform its duty. And let the rule of law prevail,” he added.
The point of Panelo is that the judiciary is fully functioning in determining the merits of the cases against De Lima, and that calls for her immediate release can only happen under an authoritarian rule, which ironically is their allegation against the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
On both counts, regarding De Lima and Mr. Duterte, Panelo had scored a convincing knockout against the yellows.