FULL TEXT: INQ&A with Senator Leila De Lima
Hours after giving a strongly-worded privilege speech at the Senate, Senator Leila de Lima joined INQUIRER.net on Tuesday for an hour-long interview to discuss the rise in the number of summary killings related to the administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.
De Lima, who has gained both admirers and bashers for speaking out against the spate of killings, also discussed her plans as chair of the Senate committee on justice and talked about the criticisms raised against her. INQ&A, hosted by INQUIRER.net Editor in Chief John Nery and Chief of Reporters Kristine Sabillo, is broadcast live every Tuesday, 8 to 9 p.m. via the recently launched INQ 990 Television (Digital Terrestrial Television), Inquirer 990 TV can be viewed on ABS-CBN’s TV Plus, RCA and Godan digital TV boxes. Every week, INQ&A will feature an important political figure. Next week’s guest is Senator Vicente Sotto III. Below is the full transcript of the interview with De Lima.
John Nery: Maayong gabi. My name is John Nery, I’m editor in chief of Inquirer.net, and with me is our co-host, the chief of reporters of Inquirer.net, Kristine Sabillo.
Kristine Sabillo: Thank you to everyone who is watching right now. Our guest today is very in demand and in fact very timely because of the interesting, well-applauded privilege speech that she gave at the Senate this afternoon. Before I introduce her, I want to give three things that you might not know about her. So, number one is that she took up history in college in De La Salle University.
Leila de Lima: History and political science.
Sabillo: History and political science. Number two, according to her staff, she cooks really good laing and Bicol Express. And number three, she’s one of the country’s top election lawyers and she served as counsel to Koko Pimentel when he filed for his electoral protest case in 2007. De Lima: And also Alan.
Sabillo: And Alan Cayetano. Ladies and gentlemen, the very feisty Senator Leila de Lima.
De Lima: Good evening. Good evening, John. Good evening, Tine. And good evening to the viewers to the listeners, and thank you for having me in your program.
Nery: Thank you, senator, and welcome to the Inquirer hot seat. It’s a milestone for you today—your first privilege speech—and I think it’s safe to say it was a controversial one. We have many questions. We’ll spend several minutes, many minutes talking about this. But if you will allow me, I’d like to ask first a question that I’ve heard other people also ask: What made you run for the Senate? Have you always thought of serving in high office?
De Lima: No, everything that happened to me in my public life has been unexpected. That’s what happened to me when I was first appointed CHR chair, I never expected it. The same thing when I was appointed DOJ Secretary and when I decided to run, that was also a surprise thing. I was actually hesitant. But then I reflected on it, and because my choice would just be retire early or go to private practice. But after all that I went through—CHR, DOJ and all those high-profile cases that I handled—the controversies that I’ve been engaged in, going back to private life, going back to private practice seemed to be…
Nery: Too tame.
De Lima: Too tame.
Nery: What was the deciding point, senator?
De Lima: Well, of course the President talked to me. President Aquino, PNoy, and former Secretary Mar Roxas. So they encouraged me to run and they said that sayang naman. Effectively they said, sayang naman, just consider your Senate run as just a continuation of what you’ve been doing. Your advocacies and also your ideas, especially about justice system reforms.
Sabillo: Ma’am, how has it been so far as a legislator, as a senator, and did you expect to get the justice committee? De Lima: Well, it’s actually the natural choice. I understand no one else was aspiring for it.
Sabillo: No one else wanted.
De Lima: Yes, that’s what I know. It’s the natural choice for me because it’s like a throwback to my CHR [and] DOJ days. This happened to me—both Justice and Human Rights—happened to be my core competencies because of my previous posts.
Nery: But I understand that in Senator Alan Cayetano’s campaign to be [Senate] president, the choice of justice committee chair was actually a crucial one. And it was, if I understand correctly, anyone but Leila.
De Lima: I read about it. I read about it that he was opposing my chairmanship. Was saying something to the effect that why would we allow her to handle this committee when we know about her stand on very major, major proposed legislative measures. And that especially the death penalty. The re-imposition of death penalty, lowering the age of criminal responsibility. My position on those matters are common knowledge and so I think that was his point. Why me as chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the committee would be tackling these very major pieces of proposed legislation by this administration. So that’s the (unclear) being an obstruction of this, which I strongly disagree.
Nery: Was there any viable challenger for Justice Committee chair?
De Lima: None that I know of. That’s what I learned. No one was interested in the Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I don’t know but that was the information.
Sabillo: Normally we ask like what the Senate dynamics are in choosing someone to head a certain committee. But in this case, so it was just because you were the only one who wanted it?
De Lima: Maybe that’s one of the reasons. And well, Senate President Koko was telling me that he’s actually able to explain to the President that because he was eyed as the senate president, he was vying for the senate presidency, and then when they were talking about chairmanships, he was saying that he would want as a Senate that would run like a well-oiled machine. And therefore, it’s important that those chairing or heading committees would be within the competencies or the particular interests and advocacies of the senators concerned.
Nery: Speaking of well-oiled machines, I think this is the time for us to ask about the privilege speech.
Sabillo: Yeah, so we’ve been talking about the justice committee, your past experience with human rights. So, I guess there’s no point in delaying discussing the much-awaited privilege speech from you. We’ve been wanting to guest you since last week but we knew that you were working on this, on the resolution on the inquiry on the summary killings related to the anti-drug campaign of the administration. What prompted you to file this resolution and give such a speech?
De Lima: Well, I had to file that resolution because, you know, the facts are there, the statistics are there. And by the day, the statistics are growing. You have your own kill list. Inquirer has their own kill list. Other media networks has its own list—CHR, even the PNP. Of course, there are some variants in the figures. Now I don’t see any reason why not. I don’t see any reason why we should not conduct this inquiry. That’s why I was a little aghast by the statement of Sen. Alan kanina when he was delivering his own privilege speech is that konti pa lang daw. I have here some transcript of exactly what he said.
“Bakit po napakarami ng pinapatay ngayon? Actually, hindi po marami, konti pa.” Now, what is the threshold? How many killings are we willing to bear? How many more killings do we need to see before we act? What is the threshold, is it hundreds, thousands, one thousand, five thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand? We don’t have to wait for that. As expressed by Sen. Risa earlier, one dead body is just one too many, particularly the cases of mistaken identity, the cases of just being there at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are more and more cases of that. And I was also a bit aghast when the point about we should instead attend to other urgent matters, not this inquiry being proposed by Sen. De Lima.
What could be more urgent than looking into these killings, particularly the innocent ones. I don’t see that point, although I do agree that we need also to focus on measures that will strengthen the criminal justice system. I do agree that it’s because of the general frustration of the people that there seem to be apathy and a sort of general acceptance of what is happening. That’s exactly the same environment, atmosphere at the time that the DDS phenomenon was there. That’s why CHR had to investigate.
Nery: It’s also possible that people might just be waiting for a provocation, a spark. Like perhaps your speech.
De Lima: As I mentioned in my speech, there may not be a general outrage yet but we could also already see some undercurrent, you know, some sentiments already. And that’s why I had to highlight the fact that there is this group of UP students—no position, no power—but they took the initiative, they’re doing that. Demonstrating. They started this cardboard, this hashtag cardboard justice. They’re not in any position, they don’t have power, you know they’re just students and yet they’re acting. What about us? So I actually emphasized that.
Nery: Did you choose the date? Did you choose to speak today, August 2?
De Lima: Well I did intend to deliver a privilege speech as a prelude to the senate inquiry because my proposed resolution was referred to my own committee as the primary committee—Committee of Justice and Human Rights. And as a second committee, the Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs chaired by Sen. Ping Lacson. So I thought that that should be proceeded into the holding, the formal holding of the senate inquiry should be proceeded by a privilege speech. I’ve been mulling over this although the initial focus supposedly, the only focus of the intended privilege speech is supposed to be the state of summary killings, but I had to inject some matters of personal privilege because of the relentless, vicious attacks being hurled against me especially through the social media.
Nery: Well, we wanna ask questions, we wanna cluster about social media campaign against you. Online and offline, I would say. Can we scroll down the prompter? I’d like to ask, I think question number 3 from Jerome Toledo. This is related to Resolution No. 9. You’re conducting an inquiry soon, is this political since you are part of LP and the legislative leaders are PDP-Laban.
De Lima: Not at all. A matter as important as this, as serious as this should transcend any political consideration. And it’s the farthest from my mind—doing things with political objective. I’m not that one. I’m not that kind of public servant.
Sabillo: That’s also my question, ma’am. You’re now obviously are the forefront of the campaign against summary killings resulting from the anti-drug campaign. Why are you doing this despite the backlash?
De Lima: It’s the right thing to do. I could’ve said, yeah, go with the tide. Also, keep mum about it and especially in light of this relentless resistant, vicious attacks. You know, also sorts of dirt being thrown at me, especially—you know, masakit yan eh? Na ang tawag sa’yo drug lord, coddler, tumatanggap sa mga convicts. So you know, to put a stop it, hindi na sana ako gagalaw, hindi na sana ako gagalaw, hindi na sana ako magsasalita. But this is the right thing to do.