MANILA – Senator Leila de Lima took offense at President Rodrigo Duterte's accusation that she was having an illicit affair with her driver, who allegedly accepted drug money in the May 2016 elections.
While Duterte did not name De Lima as the supposedly "immoral" senator, she said it was obvious that she was the one being alluded to by the president since the accusation was no longer new.
De Lima said Duterte's statements were foul and a clear form of "character assassination."
''Pareho naman kaming professional ng pangulo. Pareho rin kaming public servants. So sana, hindi na ho siya nag-reresort sa ganyan na mga foul means,'' De Lima told reporters at the Senate.
(We are both professional. We are both public servants. He should not have resorted to such foul means.)
''Saan man nanggaling ang impormasyon na iyan, sana dino-double check. Sana inaalam ang source, kung kanino nanggaling iyan. That is really foul. Ayaw ko talagang i-dignify iyan,'' added a teary-eyed De Lima, who then cut short the interview.
(He should have double checked the information and the source. That is really foul and I don't want to dignify that comment.)
Duterte did not mention De Lima's name in his speech during the celebration of the 115th anniversary of Philippine police service in Camp Crame, but the latter has been one of the staunchest critics of his war on drugs.
''Here is a senator complaining… One day I will tell you that [it is] her driver herself who was her lover, was the one who [was] also collecting money for her during the campaign,'' Duterte said.
''Here is an immoral woman flaunting -- well, of course, as far as the wife of the driver was concerned, it is adultery. Here is a woman who funded the house of her lover. And yet we don’t see any complaint about it."
Duterte also accused the driver of receiving drug money, but said he does not know if the lady senator received it.
"Here is a woman who funded the house of her lover. And yet we don’t see any complaint about it. Those money readily came from drugs," he said.
''But in fairness, I would never state here that the driver gave the money to her. But by the looks of it, she has it."
While Duterte did not mention the name of the senator, he said this official led an investigation against him for his alleged role in vigilante killings in Davao City, where he served as mayor for over two decades.
"I have the CD when she first investigated me in Davao for human rights violation. Before the press, entering the hotel lobby, she said 'I will prove that Duterte is connected with the DDS," he said, referring to the infamous Davao Death Squad.
Duterte was clearly referring to De Lima, who served as human rights commissioner during the Arroyo administration and justice secretary during the Aquino administration.
De Lima investigated Duterte's links to the DDS when she was human rights chief, and she recently gave a privilege speech denouncing the killings and human rights violations in Duterte's war against drugs. She denied in her speech of having any involvement in the drug trade.
Duterte's accusation against De Lima was also once floated in 2014 by whistleblower and defeated senatorial bet Sandra Cam, a supporter of the tough-talking chief executive.
In one instance, Cam sent an affidavit to the Commission on Appointments baring De Lima's alleged illicit affairs, in an attempt to block her confirmation as justice secretary.
De Lima is set to conduct a legislative inquiry on Monday into the rising cases of extra-judicial killings, as human rights advocates are now taking Duterte to task for the rising body count as a result of his war on drugs.