MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday admitted that the matter of resignation crossed her mind after Malacañang’s legal team modified the findings of the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) on the Aug. 23 hostage-taking fiasco.
“What I can say at the moment is that the matter of whether or not to resign will purely be my judgment. It will be solely my call,” De Lima said, adding that resignation has always been an option, “but it’s going to be a serious decision, a serious matter to consider.”
But she said she is staying on in the Cabinet for the present time and that her difference of opinion with President Aquino on charges that should be filed against those found liable in the bungled rescue does not warrant her resignation.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) yesterday released a report titled “Unpublished IIRC report scores trio: From Day 1, P-Noy wanted to save Lim, Puno, Verzosa,” which outlined the basic differences between the IIRC report and the final review in terms of liability, both administrative and criminal, of the three.
De Lima, however, divulged that certain quarters have suggested, if not prodded, her to tender her resignation as early as when the President directed the Malacañang legal panel to review the findings of the IIRC which she headed.
She said that for some reason, some people articulated the matter of resignation “but it’s no light matter.”
Everything should be considered. What is this? What just happened? There appears to be a difference of opinion, a difference in policy,” De Lima said.
She vowed to fully support and remain dedicated to the President and to the fulfillment of his dreams for the country.
The differences in opinion on specific recommendations raised in the IIRC report are far from policy differences. They are issue-specific. If any Cabinet member or alter ego of the President is asked to resign based on differences of opinion on specific-issues, the President will always be left without a Cabinet,” De Lima said.
The Palace ignored the recommendation to hold Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim liable for the bungled rescue.
Undersecretary Rico Puno, instead of being administratively held liable, was only admonished by Malacañang.
“Resignations from positions of trust and confidence are usually based on irreconcilable differences on questions of policy. There is no such difference between me and the President,” she clarified.
“We cannot be so onion-skinned as to contemplate resignation every time our perspective is not adopted in its entirety by the President.”
She said she understands that the President listens to other advisers and decides which advice is most appropriate.
“When I accepted his offer to serve his administration, I did so knowing fully well that this came with the conditions of the job,” she said.
“In arriving at the best courses of action, full debate and discussion between the President, his Cabinet and advisers is not only expected, it is in fact encouraged. And precisely because of the nature of a debate, certain positions are bound to differ, even be opposed to each other,” she explained.
A change of heart
De Lima’s decision to stay in the Cabinet, however, appeared to be a change of heart since earlier in the day she had said she was considering resigning.
Earlier the Justice secretary said the Palace’s course of action was a watered-down version of their recommendations.
“Isn’t that obvious? Some of the recommendations were substantially adopted but the degree – like gross incompetence being degraded to neglect of duty – and then no criminal case or charges,” De Lima lamented at a press conference in the morning.
Asked if she will still accept future jobs to head investigating bodies, De Lima hastily replied, “I’m a subordinate and alter ego of the President.”
She gave assurance that whatever work the President wants to assign to her, she would willingly accept as her duty.
She said the executive may or may not adopt their advice or perspective on certain issues. In the end, De Lima said it is the President who determines the best course of action. His alter egos are only expected to support him in those actions he deems best, she added.
She said the President has substantially adopted the IIRC recommendations and has drawn up a realistic action plan for their implementation.
“I and the IIRC members have been briefed by the President’s legal team regarding some recommendations which were not adopted en toto,” said De Lima, adding that the concerns and reasons of the President for the modifications on their recommendations were “well taken.”
She said the difference in position is not a basis for any stark divergence in the IIRC’s and Malacañang’s approach on the culpability of the officials involved, adding that there were more commonalities and consensus than differences.
She said the President has determined that for certain IIRC recommendations, it was better to start with a realistic action plan of meting out punishment.
“That is a clear prerogative of the President,” she added.
Sandy Araneta and Edu Punay, Philippine Star