Opening statement of Secretary de Lima during her confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments

Opening statement of Secretary Leila M. de Lima:
During her confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments

[June 4, 2014]

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Commission on Appointments.

I come here in full recognition of this august body’s constitutional mandate to scrutinize and pass upon appointments in line with constitutional checks and balances.

After nearly four whole years in the Department of Justice, I come here before you as someone who has worn and is wearing many hats; all of which, in some way, inform who I am and the manner by which I have endeavored to discharge my mandate, thus far, as the Secretary of Justice.

I come before you as a daughter, who has endeavored to do her parents proud, especially her father who was himself a lawyer and a public servant during his time, and who is constantly the benchmark I measure myself against in terms of my professional success and integrity;

A single mother, whose marriage has long since been judicially annulled, and who has been blessed with two sons and two grandchildren, the eldest of both sets being children with autism, who have been the Lord’s unexpected gifts to our family and my constant sources of inspiration;

An independent career woman, who has made a name for herself as a lawyer and as a professional in her own right, having handled high-profile election cases, including what has since been dubbed the Maguindanao Electoral Fraud of 2007, during which the call of duty of an advocate required me to traverse the so-called Ampatuan territory during the height of the clan’s power, which, unknown to most of us back then, was but a prelude to the extreme levels of atrocities certain members of said family, we will learn two years later, were apparently capable of;

As the former Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, appointed by the same President who was, even then, linked by contemporary reports to the 2007 Maguindanao Election controversy due to her known political ties to the Ampatuan clan, and as such Chairperson, endeavored to bring human rights and the rights-based approach to governance to the consciousness of the public in order to compensate for the Commission’s jurisprudentially acknowledged status as a “paper tiger”;

And, now, as someone who has served as the Secretary of Justice for nigh on four (4) full years now, having been unexpectedly given the mandate by then President-elect Benigno S. Aquino III and, now, coming before the Honorable Commission on Appointments to seek the confirmation of such mandate.

Having this much history – crammed into four years characterized by the literally unrelenting daily demands of public service in a Department that, perhaps, has the broadest scope of mandate – is, to be frank and to put it plainly, both a blessing and a curse.

It is a curse, so-to-speak, because, by the very nature of this job, performing it means that there will always be a “losing” party and, hence, someone will always feel aggrieved. It has been said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In my experience, it is impossible to faithfully perform the mandate of Secretary of Justice without incurring negative sentiments, varying in degrees from “mere flak” to outright wrath, from some sectors. One thing I can say with complete equanimity though is that, as far as I am concerned, I have made no enemies because all I have ever done is do my job: which is to deliver justice; nothing more, nothing less. To deliver justice, I have to be a truth-seeker, and that is all we in the DOJ care about.

From the moment we hit the ground running – from  the then standing DOJ resolutions on various major cases, such as those relating to the Ampatuan massacre, Ruby Rose Barrameda, Gerry Ortega cases, among others; to the investigation conducted by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), of which I was Chair, into the tragic August 23, 2010 Rizal Park Hostage-Taking Crisis, the Noriyo Ohara extortion allegations, the notorious Dominguez Brothers Carnapping Syndicate cases, the Makati Bus Bombing Incident, the Leah Ng or septic tank slay case, the Atimonan Massacre case, the death of suspected Ozamis Gang leader Ricky Cadavero while in the custody of members of the PNP, the Balintang Channel Incident, Globe Asiatique/PAG-IBIG Fund case, Amalilio and Rasuman large-scale financial scams, and the PDAF and Malampaya Fund Scams, to name but a few of the high-profile cases we’ve handled – it was never about “who” will be charged, but whether the conclusion and action we will be taking is based solely on the merits and the evidence gathered and on record.

On the other hand, being brought before the Commission now is also a blessing because I come before you, not as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, who naively and blindly promises to deliver the moon and the stars in order to gain your approval. Therefore, none of you would have to wonder if I am sincere or if I am engaging in double-talk. By now, you would know that, with me, what you see is what you get – which is someone who knows exactly what the job demands, and even exactly how demanding the job is.

Being part of the Executive was truly a whole different ballgame for someone who has been an advocate my entire career up to that point: first, as a lawyer in private practice; then, as the head of the constitutional “watch dog” for human rights abuses. It is literally a 24/7 job that recognizes no rest day, no holiday, no sacred day, and where anything can happen at any given moment.

The matters that the public sees the DOJ handling as reported in the media is not even 10% of what occupies our time: aside from the inevitable paper and administrative work and cases that must be seen to in order to keep the DOJ and all of its attached agencies running, there are the legal opinions that we render to guide our fellow public servants and even private persons; and, of course, assignments from the President, to name but a few. Typhoons, such as Pablo, Sendong and Yolanda strike, the DOJ is on-hand to advise the President on what he can do, how we can accomplish it, what agencies or tiers of government units maybe tapped, what legal provisions to invoke and, perhaps just as importantly, what are the conditions or limitations for the exercise of governmental power under such circumstances. Foreign poachers are caught in flagrante delicto within Philippine waters or Exclusive

Economic Zone, or a foreign vessel suddenly finds itself aground in a Philippine UNESCO-protected coral reef, the DOJ is one of the agencies called upon to advise concerned offices and officials of the possible legal repercussions of alternative courses of action

The public might think all we do is investigate and prosecute crimes, but we do so much more to uphold the Rule of Law.

Through our legal opinions, for instance, we make sure that other government agencies are guided in taking the right course of action. Our legislature has passed many, many good laws, especially those governing procurement and the spending of public funds, but implementing them becomes a challenge, not necessarily because those charged with implementing them have evil intent, but because they simply are not equipped to navigate the intricacies of the law and the nuances of the Constitution. Thus, I take this mandate, as Attorney General of the Republic, very seriously. Therefore, I have eliminated past practices that tend to diminish the capability of members of the Legal Staff to make independent assessments of the legal issues involved, by implementing reforms that ensure that our State Counsels and lawyers know that their duty is to advise parties as to what they ought to know about the law, and not what they want to believe the law says.

Integrity reforms and initiatives have been made across the DOJ and its attached agencies, especially by making sure that those at the top levels set a good example for the rank-and-file because I know for a fact that the most important resource of the Department is its human resource: its officials, lawyers, administrative and technical staff, and so forth. A few rotten eggs may give the agency a bad name, but if those rotten eggs are in leadership positions, they can mar and compromise, and even cripple, the institution.

Hence, I have had no qualms about ordering investigations and even entrapment operations against employees and officials of the DOJ, which have led to the separation from the service of two Directors of the Bureau of Corrections, one Director of the National Bureau of Investigation, among others; the filing of charges against prosecutors and their staff, as well as against immigration officials, and even including the Chief of Staff of a former Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration, who were found responsible for, on involved in, incidents like the suspicious escape of a South Korean fugitive while in the BI’s custody, the escape from Philippine jurisdiction of individuals for whom the BI was previously put on alert, including another South Korean fugitive, a Canadian teacher involved in the death of two (2) minor students, the Reyes brothers, among others, and even due to immigration officials’ and employees’ complicity in human trafficking activities, particularly in the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA). These efforts are on top of the establishment of Internal Affairs Units in the National Prosecution Service, the launch of the Code of Conduct for NPS Prosecutors and members of the Prosecutorial Staff.

My four years of experience has also taught me that the proper discharge of the DOJ’s mandate reaches its fullest potential when we work in cooperation amongst ourselves and with other government agencies. Within the DOJ, I have promoted a paradigm shift that fosters coordination between concerned agencies in order to strengthen case build-up and ensure successful prosecution of cases filed in court. So, too, through cooperation with the DILG, DENR, PNP, Office of the Ombudsman, COA, among others, we have formed committees and bodies that synchronized our efforts to combat illegal gambling, illegal logging, illegal mining operations, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other forms of human rights violations, graft and corruption, and human trafficking. In fact, through the successes of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which the DOJ chairs and for which investigative, prosecutorial and immigration-related support services are rendered, but whose accomplishments could not have been achieved without the full cooperation of all other agencies involved, we finally succeeded in having the Philippines removed from the Tier 2 Watchlist, which success we have maintained for the last two (2) years.

But my insight into the operations of the DOJ has also taught me that it also has a role in forging new initiatives that will define the Philippine legal system for future generations, such as through a thorough and comprehensive review of our criminal laws, through the Criminal Code Committee; the establishment of the Office for Competition, the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the Cybercrime Office, among others.

Thus, the DOJ does not only respond to existing legal issues, it works to prevent legal problems from arising through the rendering of sound legal advice, and even looks forward to defining and re-defining the Philippine legal landscape to make it more responsive to the needs of the Filipino people.

I do not claim to be an expert on all areas of the law. I do not claim either that I have never made any errors in judgment, or that I am incapable of making them in the future.  Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone can make such a claim. But I can say that there is one quality that a Secretary of Justice must have and which I know I can deliver. The singular tenacity to do what needs to be done, without fear or favor. I have proven this time and again, whether my critics acknowledge it or not. Back when I was appointed as Chairperson of the CHR, my appointment was dubbed a “controversial choice” because there were those who entertained the thought that I was selected in order to silence me as one of the voices that protested the results of the 2007 elections. Whatever President Arroyo’s motivation may have been in appointing me, only she would know for sure, but I have proven that I cannot be silenced by a misguided sense of utang na loob. Nor can I be intimidated by attempting to instill fear of the consequences that may be visited upon me: whether it be threat to my life and limb, or crass forms of public harassment, both of which I have had to endure in the last four years.

Some have called me a controversial public figure. I will not and cannot deny it. Back when I was the Chairperson of the CHR, public advocacy was our most effective and important weapon against the then prevailing culture of silence and impunity – a time when people, including journalists, were threatened with both legal and extralegal action against exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Being heard, and being seen by the public was our best weapon after the Supreme Court had decided that we had no quasi-judicial, prosecutorial, or even compulsory powers. Thus, the nature of the job demanded that we be visible. Perhaps that visibility was inevitably carried over when I transitioned into the DOJ. But I never asked to be controversial. In fact, it would have been impossible to remain uncontroversial when high-profile cases keep arising. The only way, perhaps, to keep a low profile is to not do anything worth public notice. Therefore, I take being called a controversial public figure for what it is: an indication that I am being true to my commitment, real and proven these last four years, of taking on all the challenges that remain ahead.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I submit myself for your consideration. I humbly and fervently pray for confirmation.

Maraming salamat po.