MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Members of the House justice committee were on the receiving end of criticism after prying into the 7-year love affair between Senator Leila de Lima and her former security aide and alleged bagman Ronnie Dayan.
But for Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, their questions during the reopening of the House probe into the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) narcotics trade were necessary.
They explained on Sunday, November 27, that the questions were designed to establish how deep De Lima and Dayan's relationship was and if Dayan can be considered as a credible witness. (READ: Female senators slam House probe 'in aid of misogyny, voyeurism')
"It is grossly unfair and uncalled [for] as I put it na (that) detractors would judge or be judgemental of the nature, form, and line of questioning of the members of Congress, either individually or collectively, as they stepped or touched on the Dayan-De Lima romance. It is grossly unfair because every congressman has his own way of achieving his purpose that he is aiming for," Castro said in a phone interview with Rappler.
"That's why they crafted their questions following that line. Knowing how deep their relationship is, knowing how strong the relationship is, knowing how deeply rooted the relationship is, knowing how attached they are is very, very important," he added.
The lawmaker had asked Dayan during the hearing if his relationship with De Lima was "pure and honest" and if his love for her "was rooted not just in love but also in lust." (READ: 'Kailan kayo nag-climax?': Nonsense questions at the Bilibid drugs hearing)
Castro said he had to be descriptive in his questions to show loopholes in Dayan's testimony. (READ: A can of contradictions in Ronnie Dayan's testimony)
"Close-in security siya pero hindi niya alam kung sino ang taong kausap ni De Lima? Security, close-in siya, 'di niya ma-identify kung sino ang mga nakakausap sa loob ng Bilibid? (You're close-in security but you don't know who are the people De Lima was talking to? You're close-in security but you don't know who she spoke to inside Bilibid?) Therefore, I find him, on that basis, incredible and his testimony highly suspicious," said the Capiz 2nd District Representative.
During the hearing, Dayan admitted to having a longtime affair with De Lima, which ended sometime in early 2015 when Dayan found out that the former justice secretary already had a new boyfriend. Despite their closeness, Dayan maintained that he had limited influence over De Lima.
Dayan also denied allegations that he collected drug money from high-profile NBP inmates to help fund De Lima's senatorial bid.
He also denied former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos' claim that he gave millions of drug money "quota" for De Lima through Dayan in 2012. Dayan said Ragos only approached him to help the latter rise through the ranks in BuCor.
Dayan, however, admitted that he met with alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa 5 times in 2014 to collect money from him for his former boss. But Dayan's testimony had glaring differences with Espinosa's testimony before the Senate. (READ: Dayan, Espinosa: Who's telling truth on drug money for De Lima?)
'Had to be asked'
Dayan also told congressmen that he had no idea that Espinosa was an alleged drug lord and only knew the latter as an "engineer."
"According to him, hindi niya raw kilala si Kerwin Espinosa. Are you going to believe na ikaw ay pupunta sa parking space without any knowledge kung sino o anong pangalan ng mga magigiging kausap mo? Pupunta ka at makikipagkita nang 'di mo alam tungkol sa kanyang pagkatao?" asked Castro.
(According to him, he doesn't know Kerwin Espinosa. Are you going to believe him when he said he went to a parking space without any knowledge about the identity of the person he will be meeting? You will go there without knowing who he is?)
For Fariñas, queries on the relationship of Dayan and De Lima also "had to be asked" to justify why Dayan had snubbed the justice panel's subpoena for him to attend the hearing on October 6.
Dayan claimed that he wanted to heed the order, but he was stopped by De Lima. His absence caused the committee to issue an arrest warrant against him and to cite him in contempt.
"His romantic involvement with Leila de Lima had to be asked in order to test his credibility of going into hiding on the mere advice of Senator de Lima and his being trusted by her for doing such task as receiving money from a person he didn't know in a public parking lot," said Fariñas in a text message.
"He categorically stated that he didn't have any dealings with the inmates and admitted to knowing Ragos only," he added.
During the probe, Fariñas had asked Dayan to rate how strong or weak was his relationship with De Lima in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kabayan Representative Harry Roque said it was "valid" when he asked Dayan if he took advantage of De Lima, after she admitted her affair with him was due to her "frailties as a woman."
"Not only does it smack of sexual harassment – hiring a driver and having an affair with him two months later, but reducing such a transgression as a "frailty of a woman" is an affront to those fighting for gender equality," Roque said in a statement to Rappler.
"That one statement of Senator de Lima is a disservice to every woman who said she was one with her," he said. "It is outrageous to hear a woman – a senator at that – blame her transgressions on the supposed "frailties" of her gender."
Roque also said that his use of the word "salat" came from Dayan himself. "As far as my other statements were concerned, "salat" was mentioned by Mr. Dayan thrice in describing how he handled package from Kerwin Espinosa," he said.
'In aid of legislation'
Castro said they needed to get the whole backstory from Dayan to help the House committee on justice in its investigation that was conducted "in aid of legislation."
"[Since it is an] investigation in aid of legislation, we are looking to craft a law that would correct what is wrong in the New Bilibid Prison that has become the center of drug operations not only inside the penitentiary but my God, it's all over the Philippines!" said Castro.
"Like a doctor, if you are not careful in determining the medical history of your client or your patient and if your patient, for one reason or another, would give you or will not disclose the correct information, anong mangyayari (what will happen)? You will be crafting a law for a law for a wrong problem or as a doctor, you will be prescribing the correct medicine for the wrong sickness or ailment," he added.
He pointed out that the House justice panel's subcommittees are now hearing various bills related to their committee report on the NBP drug probe.