SENATOR Leila de Lima on Monday night finally confirmed she had an affair with her former bodyguard and driver, but maintained she had never authorized him or anybody to collect money from drug lords inside the New Bilibid Prison to bankroll her senatorial campaign.
• ‘Frailties of a woman,’ she says
• Immoral act validated—Panelo
• Disbarment, Senate ouster pressed
“I am 100 percent sure that I have never received [drug money] or allowed anybody to be my bagman, whoever he maybe,” De Lima said.
De Lima was referring to Ronnie Palisoc Dayan, whom President Rodrigo Duterte identified as the bagman who collected drug money on her behalf to finance her campaign expenses when she ran for senator earlier this year.
In an exclusive interview with talk show host Winnie Monsod on GMA News TV, De Lima admitted that she and Dayan became “so close” for a few years until she broke off with him before she joined the senatorial ticket of the Liberal Party.
“We became so close. That’s it. I trusted him. Siyempre, naano po ang loob ko,” De Lima said.
During her 57th birthday last August, De Lima revealed that one of her two wishes was to have a love life so she will have somebody to share what she has been going through.
The President has vowed to destroy De Lima, claiming that when he was still Davao City mayor, De Lima, then chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, used him as a “whipping boy” and investigated him over vigilante killings in the city. She had also initiated a Senate investigation on extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s bloody war on illegal drugs.
Responding to the question why she fell in love with Dayan considering his status in life, De Lima said it was part of the “frailties of a woman.” She said her relationship with Dayan lasted for a “few years,” when he had been long separated from his wife.
Until Monday, De Lima had kept silent on the rumored affair, neither confirming nor denying that Dayan was her lover. She never spoke about their romances, although in one interview, De Lima disclosed she and Dayan had been “very close.”
Dayan was also with De Lima when she was Justice secretary after her stint at the CHR.
While she declined on several occasions to speak about her love life, which had been dragged into the House inquiry on the proliferation of illegal drugs at the national penitentiary when she was Justice secretary, De Lima conceded that it was “within the realm of possibilities” that Dayan used her name to collect drug money without her permission.
But she said if this were indeed true, she would have noticed it.
Since the controversy erupted, Dayan has not been seen at his residence in Urbiztondo, Pangasinan, a house that was allegedly built from funds given by De Lima and from drug money.
De Lima, however, said Dayan could have built the house with the help of a sister whose husband works abroad. She also said she gave “small amounts” to Dayan to help him.
In the Senate, De Lima refused to answer more questions about her affair with Dayan, which she had admitted on national TV, saying she was not comfortable discussing it in public.
“This is all I can say, my answer is simple and I don’t want to answer it because I really don’t feel right engaging publicly about private matters,” she said.
She debunked the remark of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II that her admission about her affair with Dayan could bolster the cases against her, saying that was merely his opinion.
Pressed again about Dayan, the embattled senator replied: “It’s a private matter. I’m never comfortable responding about private matters so please excuse me.”
In a statement entitled “Admission on her past relationship with former driver/bodyguard,” De Lima said she had already said her piece and would not want to add anything more.”
“I do hope that you will respect my right to privacy over my personal life and not impute any more malice,” she added.
“But for the sake of my supporters who may now have questions in their mind about me, let me get this straight again.
“Like many of us, including my detractors, some decisions and relationships in our past have not been the best and the wisest. I have learned from these experiences and resolved to use my pain to focus on the good I can do.”
De Lima vowed she had never have allowed her personal life to affect her work in public service.
“My track record as a public official, first as Commission on Human Rights chair and next as secretary of Justice, speaks for itself. My record and my reputation have been untarnished until now because of all these unjust, unfair and false allegations and fabricated lies against my alleged involvement in the drug trade. I have made my peace with my past and my family. I don’t know if my primary attacker can say the same.”
De Lima said her mission right now is to stop the extrajudicial killings and summary executions happening in the country, as well as to address other social issues.
She said she was even more determined in pursuing this goal despite the danger to her life and reputation.
Reacting to De Lima’s revelation, Aguirre said the senator may have dug her own grave, saying her admission reinforced the allegations against her and Dayan.
“It has very big implications [on the charges against De Lima] because it corroborates statements of the witnesses and establishes the link between her and Ronnie Dayan, who was pinpointed as collector of drug money,” Aguirre said.
He said De Lima’s admission also strengthens the probability that Dayan had collected money from high-profile inmates for De Lima’s financial needs and campaign funds.
“The probability of that [allegation] is higher now, and it becomes more believable now,” he said.
“He [Dayan] could have not done it without such power and authority as common law husband of Secretary De Lima.”
The Justice secretary noted that his predecessor previously denied having an affair with Dayan and even cited the improbability of a simple driver or bodyguard being able to collect millions of drug money under her watch.
“She denied that [affair] earlier. And now, the truth has come out. Ronnie Dayan was her common-law husband,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre also said De Lima’s admission could seal her fate in the disbarment case recently filed against her by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) before the Supreme Court.
“There is no more doubt now that she had an affair with a married man. That is immorality,” he said.
He said that although Dayan has been separated from his wife already, the affair with De Lima was still illicit and unlawful “as long as the marriage was not yet legally annulled at the time of their affair.”
“The Supreme Court is consistent in imposing the ultimate penalty of disbarment for lawyers involved in illicit affairs,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre also said the admission on De Lima only proves that the administration is not manufacturing charges and evidence against her.
A Palace official said De Lima should resign following her revelations.
“[De Lima’s admission] opens her to expulsion proceedings in the Senate by the Senate ethics committee for immorality and grave misconduct in office apart from opening herself to a disbarment proceedings as a member of the bar for immorality and unethical conduct,” said Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
“To save the Senate from further embarrassment, she must voluntarily resign,” he added.
Panelo said that De Lima’s admission only bolsters everything that President Rodrigo Duterte said about her, including her involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“The admission by De Lima on her romantic albeit illegal and moral liaison with her bodyguard-driver validates the accusation of President Rodrigo Duterte that the senator committed unlawful and immoral acts and opens her to a criminal charge of adultery, her lover being a married man. It strengthens the case filed against her on her involvement in the drug operations,” he said.
Panelo added that De Lima’s cry of being a victim of political persecution—when she claimed that she has been repeatedly subjected to crude, personal and verbal attack –are meant to deceive the people.
“She has herself to blame for the present destructive predicament she is in. With her aforesaid admission, President Duterte has been vindicated on his accusations against De Lima and put a lie to her pretended protestations of innocence and her cry of being a victim of persecution.”
Up until her admission, De Lima had never denied that she had a relationship with Dayan, only saying that there were “some snippets of facts, snippets of truths” in the statements of the President, but the bulk of it were distortions, exaggerations, and lies.”
Dayan has been tagged by several witnesses in congressional hearings as allegedly being the go-between for De Lima and inmates involved in the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison. With John Paolo Bencito