Malacañang will not stop Justice Secretary Leila de Lima from investigating the alleged illegal activities of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile during his exceptionally long career in government.
Asked on Saturday whether the Palace would support such an investigation, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a radio interview: “That is part of the mandate of the Department of Justice (DOJ)—to investigate violations of the law [by members] of the different branches of government.”
Malacañang will not stop De Lima from doing her job, “because the President trusts the capacity of the Department of Justice under Secretary Leila de Lima,” said Coloma.
Last Friday, De Lima said the DOJ would study the alleged illegal activities of Enrile raised by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago in a privilege speech excoriating the nonagenarian senator last Wednesday.
“I need to go over her privilege speech again. I want to go over that and then I will see what can be investigated at this point,” De Lima told reporters.
Enrile’s alleged crimes
She mentioned in particular the allegations of smuggling, illegal logging and online gambling at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport that Santiago had laid at the door of Enrile.
The Cagayan Special Economic Zone in Santa Ana, Cagayan province, was established in 1995 by a law authored by Enrile, a native of Cagayan province, when he was a congressman. It is being managed by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) as a self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial and recreational center.
Dogged by controversy
The Cagayan Special Economic Zone has been somewhat controversial in recent years because of the activities of the used-vehicle importers and a jai-alai firm operating in its territory.
The used-vehicle importers are reportedly defying the ban against the importation of used motor vehicles by continuing to bring in, if not smuggle in outright, second-hand cars from Japan and elsewhere.
Executive Order No. 156, since upheld by the Supreme Court, bans the importation of used motor vehicles.
Meanwhile, jai-alai betting centers in Metro Manila functioning as off-fronton betting stations for a gaming firm that operates televised jai-alai games from the Cagayan Freeport have run afoul of the law. The collection of jai-alai bets outside of the Cagayan Special Zone is prohibited.
De Lima, when she spoke to reporters on Friday, said the DOJ could also look into the allegations of gambling related to the Cagayan Freeport “because, as I can recall, during the time of (the late Interior) Secretary Jesse Robredo, the PNP (Philippine National Police) was undertaking operations against online gambling.”
According to De Lima, Santiago sent her a letter on Thursday asking her to tap the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate Enrile.
Santiago wanted Enrile placed under investigation for alleged involvement in smuggling, illegal logging, gambling, as well as the death and disappearances of thousands of people during the martial law years when Enrile was defense minister.
Enrile is already facing plunder charges in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
In her letter, Santiago said the results of the NBI investigation could indicate if further action should be taken against Enrile by other agencies, such as the Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Santiago also sent De Lima a copy of her privilege speech.
But De Lima said she was having second thoughts about looking into Enrile’s alleged martial law-related offenses because “even if we are willing [to investigate], maybe the chance of uncovering those things is remote … and difficult because of the long time that has passed.”
“But of course while it can be investigated, we will investigate,” she said.
Cannot be reached for comment
Inquiries sent through Enrile’s media staff went unanswered as of Saturday night.
In a manifestation after Santiago’s privilege speech last Wednesday, Enrile only indicated his denial of every crime attributed to him by Santiago by commenting on “her propensity to make unfounded, baseless accusations, her use of ad hominems, personal attacks, personal assaults against innocent people without any proof or iota of evidence to back her up.”
Last week, Enrile denied the allegations that Santiago made outside the Senate that he was the mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, that he wanted Napoles dead and that he was the financier of the Zamboanga City siege by the Moro National Liberation Front.
But he went on to make his own accusations, such as Santiago’s alleged use of Senate funds to rent space in her own building for her use as a satellite office; Santiago’s alleged use of a sports car seized by the Bureau of Customs many decades ago; Santigo’s alleged mental health problems; and the senator’s obtaining a low score in the bar examinations. With a report by Norman Bordadora