JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and several lawmakers assailed Ombudsman Conchita Morales and her team of prosecutors for not investigating so-called “narco-politicians” and allowing the drug situation to worsen in the country.
Aguirre specifically demanded that Morales explain why she refuses to investigate Senator Leila de Lima for her alleged involvement in drug trafficking despite the testimonial evidence that has recently emerged against her.
Lawmakers, on the other hand, criticized Morales for her “deafening silence” on other narco-politicians, like the late Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, while maintaining an inordinate interest in pursuing “lesser” charges against other officials.
The lawmakers said Espinosa had already executed a sworn statement implicating, aside from De Lima, congressmen, police officials and other officials as being protectors of his son Kerwin Espinosa, said to be the biggest drug lord in the Eastern Visayas region.
And yet, Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente did not even bother to ask for a copy of Espinosa’s affidavit until the mayor was slain inside a jailhouse in Baybay City, Leyte.
Clemente did not even investigate allegations that relief assistance for “Yolanda” victims were being stockpiled by local officials and not being distributed to victims, the lawmakers added.
“After the congressional hearings, many witnesses, including two [National Bureau of Investigation] officers and other officials, said that [De Lima] and Ronnie Dayan received money in two instances worth P5 million each inside her Parañaque house,” Aguirre told Palace reporters.
“But to the Ombudsman, these are still insufficient. I don’t know why she is saying that these are mere allegations,” Aguirre said.
Instead, Morales, who like De Lima was an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, said that her office will not exercise their motu propio power to investigate De Lima.
“It’s not going to happen,” Morales said. “All of these are only allegations. There is really no lead would prompt us to initiate our investigation.”
But Aguirre questioned Morales’ motives for ignoring the testimonial evidence against De Lima.
“These are not mere allegations,” Aguirre insisted. “These are accusations even if backed only by testimonial evidence bu it is testimonial evidence. These are evidence.”
“I don’t know why she say [these are only allegations]. I believe the Ombudsman herself should explain her stand,” he added.
Aguirre argued that the evidence against De Lima was sufficient even without the testimonies of her former driver and bodyguard Ronnie Dayan and alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.
“Actually, even without Dayan’s testimony, even without Kerwin’s testimony, it is already sufficient. We have more than enough testimonial evidence but we want an air-tight case. We are still strengthening the case [and] every single additional evidence is welcome,” he said.
Aside from De Lima, lawmakers said there were already many complaints of local politicians, like Albuera Mayor Espinosa, being involved in the drug trade but these were ignored by Ombudsman prosecutors.
“[The Ombudsman lawyers] are too quiet on that. They should take notice of [drug cases] because that is the problem that our country is facing today as pointed out by President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” said House Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza.
Atienza recalled that Duterte had already said there are magistrates, local officials, retired and active police officers who are allegedly involved in drug trafficking but the Ombudsman has not lifted a finger to probe the charges.
“They should seriously look into the drug proliferation and the involvement of public officials in the drug problem. They should pursue this [so they can help the government in its campaign against illegal drugs],” Atienza pointed out.
Another opposition lawmaker Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin noted that the Ombudsman continues to file corruption cases, like the one filed against Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa over his trip to watch a boxing bout in the United States.
“But they should look into all cases, not only graft and corruption,” said Garbin, a lawyer. “Being a constitutional body and watchdog to look after our accountable public officials, they should take action motu proprio even without a benefit of a complaint from somebody.”
“The Ombudsman should conduct the probe immediately given the magnitude of the drug problem. Dapat lahat at hindi lamang graft and corruption,” Garbin said.
Atienza said the Ombudsman has not even acted on complaints that local officials, some of them high ranking officials of the Liberal Party, were involved in drug trafficking.
But Aguirre said the DoJ will continue to conduct its own fact-finding investigations.
“Despite the resistance from the Ombgudsman to investigate Senator De Lima, these kind of cases could be investigated or could be heard in preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman and by the Department of Justice at the same time.
“So we are continuing our preliminary investigation in connection with these charges,” he added.