Minority senators seeking the release of detained Senator Leila de Lima should focus on their duties such as the budget deliberations instead of lawyering for their detained colleague, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Sunday.

Panelo reminded the opposition senators that it is up to the court to decide on the case of De Lima, saying they should let the rule of law prevail.

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Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo (PCOO/ MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“The colleagues of De Lima should focus on their duties on deliberating on the national budget and stop themselves from lawyering for De Lima. That’s not what the taxpayers pay them to do,” he said in a statement.

Members of the Senate minority bloc have called for the release of De Lima after the allegedly fraudulently concocted evidence against her was supposedly falling apart. De Lima’s lawyer earlier claimed that Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) officials have testified they found no suspicious transactions linking the senator to the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Panelo however said the minority senators should “know better” and “know their law.” “Regardless of the exuberant optimism of the opposition senators, the law must take its course. Let the court perform its duty. And let the rule of law prevail,” he said.

According to Panelo, it was “foolhardy” for the opposition senators to believe De Lima’s lawyer who supposedly won’t issue a statement against the client.

“His evaluation of the testimonial and documentary evidence favoring his client is expected and unsurprising. It is the court hearing the case that will give evidentiary weight to the evidence presented before it,” he pointed out.

Panelo also downplayed the statements from the AMLC and PDEA officials about De Lima.

He said AMLC investigator Artemio Baculi Jr.’s statement does not exculpate De Lima since other witnesses have testified the senator received money from the drug lords.  “Baculi also testified that no money flowed to the bank account of De Lima and (Jose Adrian) Dera. That testimony does not prove that she did not receive drug money. It can only mean she did not deposit the money she received from the drug lords in her bank account,” he added.

On the PDEA digital forensic examiner Krystal Caseñas’s claim there had been no cell phone exchange of drug transaction between De Lima and Dera, Panelo said the drug transactions need not be made through mobile phones. “It can be made through couriers. De Lima, as a lawyer, knows that bank accounts and messages and call logs on the mobile phones can be used as evidence,” he pointed out.

Panelo also affirmed that De Lima has the right to defend herself in court, citing that due process continues to work for her.

“And she is being afforded all the rights and privileges of a person accused of being involved in the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison while she was Justice Secretary,” he said.

De Lima, former Justice Secretary during the Aquino administration, has been detained since February 2017 on allegations she was part of the illicit drug trade. A staunch critic of President Duterte’s war on drugs, the senator has denied the charges.

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