MANILA (Mabuhay) – There are impeachable officials who may only be removed from office through impeachment proceedings, and there may be immunity from suit, but there is no such thing as immunity from investigation.
This was stressed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima in the wake of criticisms from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) against her pronouncements that she may order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate allegations against UNA stalwart Vice-President Jejomar Binay, members of his family, and other individuals implicated in the Binays’ alleged pocketing of public funds through rigged Makati City projects.
Due to the gravity of the allegations against the Binays, and considering that public funds are involved, De Lima said it may be difficult for the country’s premier investigative agency to turn a blind eye on the issue considering that the bureau’s core mandate is precisely that: to investigate.
“There is no such thing as immunity from investigation. There is an immunity form suit, may mga impeachable officials na they can only be removed through impeachment, but it doesn’t mean na hindi na po sila pwede imbestigahan. Pwede mag-positive, pwede mag-negative. Kung positive, depende din if it will fall under the grounds of impeachable offenses under the grounds set forth by the Constitution then saka pwede to come into play na yung impeachment process.”
“Pero yung sabihin na huwag ninyong imbestigahan simply because impeachable officials yan, wala pong ganun because there is no such thing as immunity from investigation. Hindi rin po pwede pigilan ang imbestigahan ng isang ahensya na ang mandato at precisely to investigate,” De Lima said.
The justice chief said she was surprised at the reaction of the Binay camp through one of the Vice-President’s spokespersons, Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, who has accused her of nitpicking at the opposition.
De Lima said the reaction was an “overreaction.”
When the Senate Blue Ribbon Sub-Committee that is holding hearings on the issue wraps up its probe, De Lima said she anticipates that investigative bodies, such as the NBI, will be directed to do a further probe as was the case in the Blue Ribbon’s previous investigations.
The question is whether to wait for that, or to motu proprio act now.
“Nagugulat po ako sa nagiging overreaction ng ilan ilan na mouthpieces from the Binay camp. Bakit ho ganun na inannounce ko lang last week na tutulungan namin ang senado para i-trace ung ilan ilan na personalidad na napangalanan na ni former [Makati City] Vice-Mayor [Ernesto] Mercado na sangkot din daw, as alleged bagman. Sinabi ko tutulong ang NBI and then ganyan ang reaction nila. nasabi ko rin na depende sa magiging developments and depende sa mga makukuha kong impormasyon and assessment ko kay former Vice-Mayor Mercado ay malamang mag-iimbestiga na rin ang NBI.”
“Hindi naman ho malayo at inaasahan naman ho namin na part of the recommendations of the Senate sub-committee pag natapos na yung inquiry na yan ay ipapa further investigation sa amin yan or other investigative body. So ano ang magiging desisyon ko po? Hihintayin ko pa ba ang rekomendasyon na yan ng Senate sub-committee or pwede na ho ba kami na NBI mag-imbestiga dahil mandato ho namin yan,” De Lima said.
She pointed out that if the Binays have nothing to hide, there is no reason for them not to cooperate in any investigation.
“Huwag ho ninyong ilihis ang isyu… Kung talagang naniniwala kayo o talagang walang katuturan o nagsisinungaling lang itong sila former Vice-Mayor Mercado, hindi ho ba mas maganda na harapin ang imbestigasyon? Mas maganda na alamin talaga natin ang katotohanan?” she said.
Reacting to Tiangco’s statement that she should instead pursue investigations on the Malampaya Fund scam, MRT-3 alleged extortion, and “pork barrel” scam, De Lima said there is a need for UNA to check its facts since all these issues have already been investigated by the NBI upon her orders.
“What bias? Please check your facts… inimbestigahan na mga yan ng NBI. Yung Malampaya Fund scam, finile na ho namin yan sa Ombudsman. Finile na namin yung first two [”pork barrel” scam case] batches… and then nakita na natin na meron nang inuna nang kinasuhan ang Ombudsman sa Sandiganbayan. Yung Inecon [MRT-3 alleged extortion], na-imbestigahan na po yan ng NBI, nai-submit ko na po sa OP (Office of the President)… under [preliminary investigation] na rin po yan ng Ombudsman, nafile na ho for preliminary investigation by the FIO (Ombudsman Field Investigation Office) doon sa alleged extortion and tungkol doon sa bidding sa maintenance projects.”
“We’ve done our part, so wala kami pinipili, nag-iimbestiga kami doon sa mga dapat imbestigahan, so ano po ang sinasabi nila?” De Lima said.
Tiangco accused De Lima of sparing the allies of President Noynoy Aquino in the Liberal Party while running after the necks of those in the opposition.
The justice chief denied the accusation.
“No politicking, no political consideration. It’s never our consideration. Wala ko kaming pinipili… Yung sinasabing politically motivated – politically motivated or not, we still deserve the truth. These are people’s money, these are public funds and these are very serious allegations. Totoo ho ba o hindi? Kailangan ho matuldukan yan, kailangan may closure yan, at kung totoo yan kailangan meron hong accountabiltiy at the end of the day,” De Lima stressed.
She clarified that during her meeting anytime within the week with Mercado and the other Senate witnesses, Atty. Renato Bondal, and Nicolas Enciso VI, all of whom are with the Department of Justice Witness Protection Program by virtue of the Senate’s request, she will ask them not only to divulge details about the supposed illegal activities they have accused the Binays of perpetrating, but also to present evidence to corroborate their claims.
At the very least, she will demand for “data and inputs” that may help the NBI secure corroborative documentary evidence, De Lima said. (MNS)