A Reaction from Secretary of Justice Leila M. De Lima

13 March 2014

Senator Jinggoy Estrada claims that he is undergoing a trial by publicity courtesy of the stray cats the Department of Justice (DOJ) has picked up and recruited as witnesses in order to prevaricate facts against him.  According to the Senator, this was the result of the amateurish and sloppy investigation work conducted by the DOJ on these witnesses. He thus advised the DOJ, specifically the Secretary, to be instructed properly on the character and credibility of her Department's latest witnesses.

Senator Estrada does not get it. He is barking up the wrong tree for what he perceives as a "trial publicity." Much of the publicity generated by the PDAF scam investigations, in general, and testimony of the  witnesses, in particular, is not brought about by the DOJ, but the very nature of the subject matter.

This case involves public officials and the alleged massive siphoning of public funds into the personal wealth of certain individuals. It is not just a matter that concerns the abstract concepts of "public trust and confidence," but about very concrete questions as to how public property was used or misused, allegedly with the direct participation of public officials. In no uncertain terms, this is a matter of overwhelming public and national interest. Is it any wonder, therefore, that it has passed into the realm of public discourse? That taxpayers are asking legitimate questions about how were the alleged scams facilitated, who were  responsible, how public funds could be better protected against similar criminal designs in the future, including by rigorously investigating, prosecuting and penalizing those involved?

In the face of such open questions from the public, a stonewall of silence on the part of the government will ultimately be a disservice to the national and public interest, and will undoubtedly cast suspicion that we are resurrecting the culture of secrecy that, in turn, nurtures a culture of impunity and lack of accountability.  

The DOJ and the NBI have no say on the political personalities the whistleblowers and government witnesses implicate in their testimonies. The intention from the start was to merely present these witnesses before the Ombudsman's preliminary investigation, and leave it to the Ombudsman to decide for herself whether or not these witnesses should remain as state witnesses.   With the Senate investigation, the situation has become more complex. Instead of being confined to the Ombudsman's preliminary investigation, the testimonies of the witnesses are now tested before the public, in the forum where Senator Estrada himself sits as a member. He is not as powerless as he projects himself to be.

With the exposure of the witnesses in the Senate forum, Senator Estrada, from day one, always had the opportunity to directly confront the witnesses himself, to cross-examine them exhaustively, and to assail their credibility face to face. Instead, he chose to excuse himself from the proceedings, and reserved his voice for the podium in the form of privilege speeches. This is his privilege. We cannot deprive him of his pleasure to assail the DOJ and its witnesses in the platform and the manner he chooses to do so.

But to be fair, it was not the DOJ who chose the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee as the forum for its witnesses. It was the Senate, of which Senator Estrada is a member, which chose the Senate Committee hearings as the forum for the witnesses. Left to itself, the DOJ and the NBI would have limited the appearance of the witnesses before the Ombudsman. Again, the Blue Ribbon hearing changed all this. Brought before the bar of public opinion, the investigation is unraveling as expected. The witnesses reveal what they know. In turn, hurt by the accusations, Senator Estrada lashes out against his perceived tormentors.  

With the presentation of the witnesses in the Senate public hearings, the DOJ is left with no choice but to protect the witnesses from further harassment, including that coming from the political personalities most implicated in the testimonies of the whistleblowers.

In any case, the DOJ and its witnesses are well aware that we can only expect more attacks from the Senators implicated, as accusations slowly reveal themselves as truth, and the truth in turn starts to touch raw nerves. In the face of these attacks, the DOJ will simply continue to do its work of building a stronger case against all concerned, on top of what has already been established so far.

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