MANILA, Philippines—Is Justice Secretary Leila de Lima thinking of resigning?
De Lima Thursday said that she was “a little bit” surprised that President Benigno Aquino III had ordered a Palace team to go over the findings and recommendations of the Incident and Investigation Review Committee (IIRC), which he himself formed, on the Aug. 23 hostage-taking.
In New York, where he is on a weeklong visit, Mr. Aquino told reporters on Tuesday he was not “100 percent sold” on the committee’s report to him last Friday after five days of marathon hearings and that was why he had ordered a Palace review.
“We are preparing already,” De Lima said in a news conference. “What the committee will do next will depend really on the results of that review by the presidential legal team,” she said.
“What the chair of the committee will do next will also depend on the results of the review.”
Asked if she was considering quitting, De Lima said, “I don’t want to say anything about it.”
De Lima admitted that the IIRC had expected the Palace to release to the public the entire report to prevent any confusion and speculation.
De Lima said that because the Palace did not release the entire report, the IIRC was becoming “defensive” with the speculations going around.
“But again we respect the decision of the President to withhold it for now pending the review of the legal team,” De Lima said.
“But I have to be candid also of the sentiments of the IIRC,” she said. “We do not want to be put on the defensive.”
“Look at what’s happening. So many are criticizing. Many are also speculating because the report [has not been released] completely,” she added.
Asked if she was surprised by the President’s decision, De Lima said: “Medyo (a little bit).”
She said she did not ask Aquino to reconsider his decision to have the IIRC recommendations reviewed because she respected it.
“I could only defer to the decision of the President,” De Lima said.
“Ideally, that was the thinking of the committee. That it would have been much better if the full report had been released to preclude speculations,” De Lima said.
Eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker were killed during the 11-hour standoff which sparked outrage in China and its southern territory and strained relations between Beijing and Manila.
Only 53 pages of the 83-page report have been posted on the government website, although the entire document was turned over to the Chinese Ambassador in a gesture of appeasement. The section on conclusions and recommendations were withheld from the Philippine public, pending the review by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa.
Asked if she agreed with it, De Lima said: “Well, the committee cannot … you know … that’s the problem when you cannot really publicly express your own [views].”
‘It’s not fair’
Asked whether the President’s decision was ill-advised, she said: “Can I just defer my comments after we receive the results.”
De Lima said allegations that the IIRC recommended the prosecution of certain individuals and organizations for personal or political reasons were “very unfair, irresponsible and unfounded.”
“The members of the IIRC are also human. We have our own feelings. It’s not fair. It’s very unfair that certain personalities are imputing alleged personal and even political motives in the work of IIRC,” De Lima said. “That is most ridiculous.”
She said the committee did not recommend the immediate prosecution of anyone and only called for the “initiation of appropriate administrative and criminal proceedings” against seven individuals to determine if there was probable cause to go after them.
“It is initiation. It’s not direct filing of charges,” De Lima said, adding there was one individual that the IIRC recommended to be investigated further for administrative liability.
“Of course, we had a very different recommendation for the Ombudsman and her deputy. We also had a very different recommendation for (broadcasters) Michael Rogas, Erwin Tulfo and the dxXL station manager,” De Lima said.
“Of course, we also had a different recommendation for the three networks,” she added, referring to ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and TV5.
De Lima said that the committee did not recommend specific sanctions “precisely because the administrative and criminal proceedings would have to be initiated first.”
She urged all those concerned—Filipinos, Chinese, government officials and the media—to take time to analyze and make constructive observations about the IIRC action, pointing out that the entire report has not even been released.
“We feel that only a full understanding and comprehension of the report will aid the proper discussions of its merits as well as shortcomings,” De Lima said.
“We know there are imperfections in the report. In the first place, we have limitations like time, materials or literature on what came out in the public proceedings.”
De Lima said that the committee, excluding Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, met Thursday morning and discussed what steps to take for the “second phase” of their investigation, which is the “institutional review.”
“We are also issuing an addendum—I think by Monday—on certain points not covered by the report because the corresponding documents came late in the sense that we were already finalizing the report when these documents came,” she added.
De Lima said the Ombudsman’s planned investigation into the hostage-taking might duplicate the work of the IIRC.
She noted that the purported basis of the Ombudsman’s move, an Aug. 23 letter from two Hong Kong councilors, asked for information that had already been answered by the IIRC inquiry.
“But again, as I said, that is the prerogative of the Ombudsman, especially it is an independent constitutional body,” she added.
De Lima said that issues of “propriety and prudence” would only come to fore if the Ombudsman would look into her own involvement in the hostage-taking.
Philip Tubeza, Phil. Daily Inquirer