MANILA - "So what?"
This was the reaction of Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chief Leila de Lima to the statement of Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (ANAD) Rep. Pastor Alcover Jr., who said she is a relative of the wife of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison.
"Well if you're asking about Juliet de Lima, the wife of Joma Sison, well I've never denied that. Many people know that the family of Juliet are our relatives." De Lima said in an interview on ANC's Top Story.
"You see in our place, in Iriga City, all the De Limas there are our relatives. I even asked my father a few minutes ago, because I'm also not sure - I'm not sure as to the degree of the relationship - all I know is that [she is a] distant relative. And my father is also not very sure, [but] he said it is probably the third degree. Third cousin, they are third cousins. He is third cousins with Juliet and her siblings," she explained.
De Lima said she has never denied her relation to Sison's wife, adding that the raising of the issue by Alcover and Bantay party-list Rep. Jovito Palparan was "surprising."
"I've never denied it, many people know about it, and so I'm surprised by this stance of Mr. Alcover and Mr. Palparan. All of a sudden they are raising this issue of my relationship with the wife of Joma. I actually consider that a nuisance thing," she said.
"They trying to muddle the issue of the alleged abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas," she said, referring to the case of the Filipino American activist who alleged that she was abducted and tortured by military elements.
Not interfering with CHR work
De Lima said that her relationship to Sison's wife has never interfered with her work in the CHR.
"I don't think [it interfered with my work in the CHR]. I am sure the President knows about that... Why are they highlighting that? Why are they amplifying that?" she said.
De Lima also said that the two party-list representatives can check their family's ideology.
"They can check out the ideology of our family, they can check out our family background. My father, Vicente de Lima, used to be a commissioner of the Commission on Elections during the time of Christian Monsod. My aunt now, Lilian de Lima, is the director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. I have other relatives in government," she said.
She also refuted the insinuation of bias or sympathy towards communists.
"All these allegations of bias... I've said this before, I'm biased, and I'm consistently biased in favor of human rights and in favor of human rights victims, because that's part of our mandate, the institution, the CHR," she said.
"So we're necessarily always sympathetic to human rights victims, but it does not necessarily mean we're not objective when we do our fact-finding investigation," she said.
"You can't choose your relatives. And what's wrong with that? So what? Hindi naman 'yon ang issue," she said.
Case hinges on Roxas's credibility
De Lima also responded to the call by Palparan to include in its investigation the possible involvement of the New People's Army (NPA) in the abduction and torture of the Filipino-American activist.
"When I had this exchange of discussions with Rep. Palparan, [I said] we can entertain this issue as a peripheral issue that would hinge on the credibility of Melissa Roxas, because she was denying that," de Lima said.
"We do not know that yet. It goes to the issue of credibility.. Right now, I could say that this case... would rise or fall on the credibility of Melissa Roxas, because if she's telling the truth, then she is the proof or the evidence of that abduction and torture," she said.
"It's important for her credibility to stay intact. So if something is proven that impairs or affects her credibility, then that would have an impact also on the overall case," she said.
She also said they are still trying to find out if the alleged abduction and torture could be a case of mistaken identity, after Roxas, in her statement, said that her alleged abductors referred to her as a certain 'Maita.'
"We're still trying to find that out, although in yesterday's (Wednesday) meeting, Rep. Satur Ocampo (of Bayan Muna party-list) said that it could be Maita Santiago of Migrante International, another activist based in Canada, but we do not know that really," she said.
The two party-list representatives had earlier released a video showing Roxas in the company of suspected NPA members. (Read: Did Melissa train in NPA camp? ) Roxas has however denied the allegation.