MANILA - Senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday said the “gangster-like antics” of President Rodrigo Duterte do not seem to scare terrorists, as she raised doubts on the capability of the tough-talking chief executive to protect the country and its citizens.
In a dispatch from her detention cell in Camp Crame, De Lima, one of Duterte’s most ardent critics, said the President’s threats seem to be “nothing but empty words to real terrorists" following the spate of bombings in Mindanao.
“If, indeed, it was the terrorists who did the bombings, it also proves one thing: That the gangster-like antics of Duterte cannot protect the people against terrorists and neither can he scare them away to curb their agenda. The first was Marawi, now Jolo and Zamboanga,” De Lima said.
“His threats are nothing but empty words to real terrorists. To put it bluntly, he is mighty in words, but inept in action. What are our intelligence assets doing, or where are the funds to run the intelligence gathering?”
She added that the bombings took place even as the entire Mindanao is under martial law.
De Lima also raised doubts on the President and the military’s claim that the bombing of a Catholic church in Jolo, Sulu was the handiwork of foreign suicide bombers, as she called for an independent investigation into the bloodbath that left 22 people dead.
“There is something more to this than meets the eye as bereaved families raise doubts on the suicide bomber theory of the government and no less than the City Mayor of Jolo is calling for an independent investigation for fear of cover-up and whitewash. They are from the area and understand the place; their doubts must be valid,” she said.
The senator said the President seemed to have made a “hasty pronouncement” that suicide bombers were behind the attack “without waiting for the results of official investigation and validation from experts.”
“His statements achieve nothing but add more confusion and fear among the people. It is highly irresponsible, especially coming from the top official of the land,” she said.
She said Duterte’s latest claim forms part of a pattern wherein he makes “premature and specious statements often in too serious a situation.”
“He did this in the case of the seized magnetic lifters in Cavite which, based on PDEA’s investigation, were used to smuggle billions worth of shabu. At first, Duterte dismissed the agency’s initial findings as ‘pure speculation,’” she said.
“In these bombings in Mindanao, is he again misleading the public and selling us the wrong story?”
De Lima also slammed the perpetrators in the terror attacks.
“That the culprits attacked more than the symbolism of the place than the faithful who happened to be there makes the act extremely vicious. They assailed peace, targeted particularly no one, but sowed fear to everyone. To what end?” she said.
Responding to De Lima’s criticism of the President, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the lawmaker was “talking nonsense” and “has dulled her senses.”
“De Lima is blaming the intelligence community and questioning how the intelligence fund was being spent,” Panelo said in a statement.
“The fact that the soldiers were not able to detect the terrorists who disguised themselves as churchgoers is no reason for this criminally accused legislator to be so insensitive as to blame them for the tragedy.”
He also dismissed De Lima’s claim that the President cannot protect the public, saying “this is the same President who crushed the dreaded and ruthless ISIS and their local counterparts in the Marawi siege.”
“This is also the same President who has declared a war on drugs, criminality and corruption and gained headway in all those fronts by his swift action and enforcement of the law, without fear or favor.”
Panelo also defended the President’s decision to place Mindanao under martial law, saying not doing would put the region “in chaos with bombings and killings a daily occurrence.”