The House of Representatives passing a measure to revive the death penalty, a one-and-done Senate hearing on murderous allegations against President Rodrigo Duterte, and yet another threat to declare martial law filled news pages over the past two weeks. And as the measure to restore capital punishment makes its way to the Senate, there will be more discussions about the administration’s curious “priority bill.”
But in case you didn’t notice, after seven months of being a fixture on front pages and news tickers, the name of Sen. Leila de Lima and her constant cries against the violation of human rights have been relatively silent, at least for the meanwhile.
Flair for the ironic
As a refresher, De Lima was arrested following a five-month investigation of her alleged links to drug lords detained in the New Bilibid Prison. As noted by Rappler, on Feb. 17, the Senator was charged in court for violating Section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 – which penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.”
When the warrant of arrest was issued against De Lima, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella called it “a fulfillment of the campaign promise of Duterte to rid the Philippine society of drugs, crime and corruption,” adding that the arrest of an incumbent Senator was proof of the President’s strong resolve to rid the country of the “drug menace.”
As part of the process, and a blatant display of the administration’s flair for the ironic, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped drug trade charges against five high-profile inmates of the national penitentiary because according to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, “they will be utilized as prosecution witnesses.”
Among those five inmates that had charges dismissed against them were Herbert Colanggo and Peter Co. As noted by Rappler, last July, Duterte warned Co to “never try to go out of prison, you will die.” He also referred to the drug lords as “beyond redemption.” Of course there always remains the possibility that his comments were mostly likely another of his hyperboles.
It’s hard to look at the developments as anything other than political persecution. But more importantly, the administration and the justice system has set a dangerously reckless precedent by using criminals as state witnesses. As pointed out by Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Randy David, “The first problem of the government is precisely the credibility of their prime witnesses. In a case, that, by itself, is already heavily tainted by the color of political persecution, the choice of convicted criminals as witnesses for the state is reckless and pathetic.”
This brings us back to confessed “Davao Death Squad” (DDS) leader, retired SPO3 Arturo Lascanas, who admitted to the killing of 200 people allegedly under the orders of Duterte – then Davao City mayor. The Senate ended its probe of the retired police officer’s allegations after just one hearing, pointing to his previous recanted statement where he denied the existence of the DDS.
As pointed out by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, “When convicts serving sentence in the New BIlibid Prison make statements derogatory to Sen. De Lima, the Department of Justice and prosecutors take these statements hook, line and sinker as truth. But when a person like Lascanas, who’s not even a convict, retracts his statement and tells the truth, his credibility is challenged.”
Following the Senate’s ending of the probe, public order committee Chair Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it is now up to the Philippine National Police and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the information presented during the hearing. The lawyer of another confessed DDS member, Edgar Matobato, said that a case will be filed at the end of the month against Duterte for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
By TIMOTHY JAY IBAY