Secretary De Lima: Bungling, incompetent, or loyal lackey?

CONSIDER the facts, and you decide whether Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is:

(a) An incompetent, but partisan justice secretary who doesn’t really know what her job is, in former senator Joker Arroyo’s words, a student-council official of a student-council administration, describing this government’s utter amateurishness.

(b) A bungling official who’s been falling over herself in her obsession for publicity so she could have a fighting chance for her senatorial bid in 2016. Or,

(c) A loyal lackey of President Aquino who would do anything her boss wants.

Or none of or all of the above.

That might seem too harsh an assessment of the seemingly hard-working hair-dyed justice secretary, who’s perfected that trick of having a “spontaneous” interview on her way to her office in time for the 6 and 6:30 news nearly everyday.

However, review the events of the past several weeks, recall how the frenzy over lists of those supposedly involved in the pork barrel scam broke out, and you decide.

April 22: De Lima calls for a press conference in which she reports that on the previous day, up to the wee hours of the following morning, alleged pork-barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles confessed everything to her in a five-hour meeting at the Ospital ng Makati, before she was to undergo hysterectomy.

Sec. Leila de Lima at her April 23 press conference, which eventually led to a change in public attention from “Tanda,” Payat,” and “Pogi,” to Aquino’s Drilon, Abad, and Alcala.

Sec. Leila de Lima at her April 23 press conference, which eventually led to a change in public attention from “Tanda,” Payat,” and “Pogi,” to Aquino’s Drilon, Abad, and Alcala.

De Lima even provided melodramatic details of her meeting, perhaps to create a sense that Napoles’ revelations in her hospital room had divine witnesses: “She was tearful when she first saw me. When I entered her room, she was praying the rosary. There were pictures of Mama Mary and Jesus Christ.”

De Lima’s media message, which was what her boss wanted, was a blast that nearly all the newspapers made their banner headline: “Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla.”

Now review what happened subsequently, and you’d likely be choosing in the choices above, (a) and even (b).

A nonpartisan justice secretary would have kept her meeting secret, or kept her mouth shut, quietly done her job, and submitted Napoles affidavit to the Ombudsman, who after all was collating evidence for submission to the Sandiganbayan.

What was the purpose for reporting that meeting, other than for de Lima to be in the media limelight for the umpteenth time, and for Tanda, Payat, and Pogi (alleged whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s codenames for senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada ,and Bong Revilla) to be convicted in the trial by publicity?

However, what happened subsequently shows how de Lima’s loquaciousness and her media addiction backfired.

After reading the banner headlines, former senator Panfilo Lacson, in just one “ambush” interview with reporters, totally changed de Lima’s narrative—that Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla are absolutely guilty—to one that has consumed the nation since:

Napoles didn’t just pin down the three but many others, including Aquino’s allies, Lacson told the media. “De Lima can’t deny this,” said Lacson, “I have the same list Napoles gave her.”

After Lacson’s revelation, the media agenda turned into one over a deluge of “lists.” Never mind if there was or wasn’t any strong evidence of why a person would be on this or that rouge’s list.

The self-professed whistle-blower against jueteng a few years back, Sandra Cam, claimed she also had a list. Not to be outdone, the Philippine Daily Inquirer bannered its own list—so much expanded that it included the P3,000 worth of lanzones  delivered to Senator Ferdinand Marcos as well as the gifts Napoles allegedly gave media personalities. The newspaper claimed that these were in the files in alleged whistle-blower Luy’s hard disc given to it by his family way back in April last year.

It is hilarious, if not for the gravity of the issue involved: Even President Aquino joined the frenzy over “lists.” Why, he didn’t have just one list like Lacson. He had three, he boasted.

Asked about the controversy in a press briefing while he was in Burma, Mr. Aquino said: “I have seen two and they don’t agree with each other exactly. And they are both supposed to have come from Mrs. Napoles,” he said. The third (Lacson’s list) also didn’t seem to match the two lists, he added.” Nobody asked him the obvious question: “So which list do you think is accurate?”

I can just imagine though how Aquino had bawled out de Lima: “Your meeting with Napoles was supposed to completely demolish Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla with her bedside, tearful testimony.” I can imagine Aquino pulling his hair (at the sides): “Instead, you’ve created a frenzy over lists, and now my allies and key people are included in those damned lists,gadamit! “

“But it’s your rehabilitation czar who’s supposed to be busy in the Visayas who ruined it, sir, “ I can imagine de Lima whimpering, looking down at her twiddling thumbs.

De Lima though could be a (c) in the choices above.

What has been glossed over, even forgotten now, is that Napoles in her meeting with de Lima April 22 signed and submitted her sworn affidavit that contained mostly what she verbally told the justice secretary. This was reported in all newspapers, in their April 23 editions. Here are three examples:

Manila Times: “Their discussion that stretched until early dawn was put on paper. Napoles later signed her written testimony, which according to de Lima, contained more details about the pork barrel scam. Philippine Star: “ De Lima said she met with Napoles Monday night . . . and took a “tell-all” sworn statement from the detained businesswoman.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 23: “According to De Lima, Napoles told everything she knew about the corruption scandal, executed a sworn statement, and expressed her desire to become a state witness. (Emphasis mine.)

However, either realizing that Napoles’ affidavit implicates not only the three opposition senators but Aquino’s key officials and allies, or after being bawled out by the president over this, de Lima apparently has embarked on a difficult editing job to revise Napoles’ affidavit to comply with her boss’ wishes.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman senator Teofisto Guingona III subpoenaed not only the list (which was actually a summary in the affidavit as an annex) but also Napoles’ entire affidavit. De Lima however has refused to submit the affidavit. Guingona III proved his subservience to Aquino by not raising a howl against de Lima’s refusal to give the affidavit to his committee.

De Lima had written Guingona asking for a one-week extension of her deadline to submit the list and the Napoles affidavit. She argued that “despite efforts of Napoles and her counsel to work overtime at the Ospital ng Makati, they would need more time to complete and submit such Affidavit.”

But in her April 22 press conference, she herself said —and as reported by nearly all newspapers and TV news programs—that Napoles already submitted her affidavit to her on that meeting. What’s going on?

My guess: De Lima—as probably ordered by Aquino—has been pressuring Napoles to revise her affidavit.

The list can no longer be revised, since it has been publicly released. But the affidavit certainly can, since it hasn’t been released, just as long of course as Napoles agrees to do so. It could be revised as to weaken the credibility of Napoles’ testimonies against Aquino’s people and allies included in the list.

Rather than saying, for example if it was contained in the original affidavit, that she had met with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to discuss his share in pork-barrel loot, she could just say that her staff Luy told her that a budget department director told him that the secretary was in the loop.

Or she could borrow a page from a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, to claim that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s complicity for him to have been included in the list was because she sent him lanzones worth P3,000, as a Christmas gift.

I suspect Napoles is brighter than de Lima and is playing her.

She’s sent the message to Aquino that she can be so bold as to implicate his officials—and maybe even Aquino himsef, some suspect. So he better take good care of her.