Ethics panel to vote on 'substance' of complaint vs De Lima

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate committee on ethics and privileges is set to vote Tuesday, September 13, on the procedural matters of the complaint filed against Senator Leila De Lima before deciding whether it would pursue hearing the case or not.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, committee chairman, said the panel would likely settle two things on Tuesday morning – whether the complaint has sufficient form and substance and whether the committee has rightful jurisdiction over the matter.

"We'll try to settle everything. We gave each member a copy of the complaint 'di ba (right) so we will decide on Tuesday what we will do on the complaint, what are the next steps we will be taking," Sotto told reporters on Wednesday, September 7.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former chairman of the committee, said they only have jurisdiction if the alleged offense was done during the official's term as senator or if it is a continuing act.

"Ibang issue pa 'yun. Halimbawa, sufficient in form and substance, ang next question, may jurisdiction ba ang ethics committee? Simple lang naman ang jurisdiction eh – kung 'yung offense as alleged na-commit during her incumbency as senator. Kung nacommit ito before walang [jurisdiction] unless continuing," he said.

(That's a separate issue. For example, if the complaint is sufficient in form and substance, the next question is: Does the ethics committee have jurisdiction? Jurisdiction is just simple – if the offense as alleged was committed during her incumbency as senator. If it was committed before, then we don't have jurisdiction, unless it is a continuing act.)

If found to be insufficient in form and substance, Lacson said the panel would return the complaint to the accuser, a certain Abelardo De Jesus, and ask him to correct it.

"And kung talagang walang sufficiency in form or substance, idi-dismiss namin 'yan. Bibigyan namin ng chance ang complainant to correct. Kung 'di kaya i-correct o hindi na siya sumagot, idi-dismiss namin," Lacson said.

(And if there is no sufficiency in form or substance, we will dismiss it. We will give the complainant a chance to correct the complaint. If he is unable to correct or respond, we will dismiss the complaint.)

To be resolved immediately

Other than saying it is "harassment," De Lima has yet to formally answer the allegations thrown against her. Lacson said the panel would ask her to respond once the technical and procedural issues are settled. (READ: Senate ethics panel: 'Difficult' for us to decide on complaint)

"Once the complaint is determined to have sufficient form and substance and we determine that the ethics committee has jurisdiction, that's the time she will be informed to respond," Lacson said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He added that De Lima's accuser, De Jesus, would not yet be summoned to appear before the panel.

Both Sotto and Lacson said they would settle the complaint "as soon as possible," with Lacson adding it should be resolved immediately to be "fair" to De Lima – who once sought his imprisonment when she was justice chief.

"As soon as possible, no particular time. As soon as possible so nothing is left hanging," Sotto said in Filipino.

"In fairness to Senator De Lima, kailangan maresolve din agad (it has to be resolved immediately)," Lacson said.

De Jesus is seeking the expulsion of the neophyte senator, citing President Rodrigo Duterte's accusations that De Lima received money from drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign. (READ: De Lima 'willing to be shot' if drug links proven)

De Jesus, in his complaint, accused De Lima of betrayal of public trust, gross misconduct, serious misrepresentation, and grievous negligence.

While admitting in a radio interview that he has no direct knowledge of the allegations, De Jesus said there is "no reason to doubt the veracity" of the President's accusations. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.