MANILA - Long before Leila de Lima joined government as chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and eventually, secretary of justice, she was in private practice focusing on election law. Among her most notable clients were two of her colleagues in the Senate--Senate President Koko Pimentel and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.
In fact, De Lima was not only the two senators' retained lawyer, she handed them important legal victories.
De Lima was counsel for Cayetano in his disqualification case involving his citizenship.
De Lima was counsel for Pimentel in his electoral protest to unseat 12th placer Juan Miguel Zubiri. Pimentel eventually took Zubiri's seat after the latter resigned in August 2011 following allegations of fraud in the 2007 elections.
It seems the relationship De Lima built with her former clients were not strong enough to withstand politics.
De Lima, a member of the Liberal Party, has been a staunch critic of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) linked to Duterte, as well as alleged extra-judicial killings in the Duterte administration's war on drugs.
Pimentel and Cayetano, on the other hand, are close allies of the president.
Pimentel, party mate of Duterte, received the blessing to lead the Senate as its president. Cayetano was Duterte's running mate in the 2016 presidential elections.
Pimentel's first Senate win
Without a doubt, De Lima was instrumental in Pimentel's first Senate win, albeit through electoral protest, which makes De Lima's contribution even more significant.
Pimentel's protest had been pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and seemed to be losing traction until Zubiri made his unprecedented move of giving up his seat.
De Lima, then already secretary of justice, was about to conduct a full-blown investigation by a 5-member Department of Justice-Commission Elections panel into alleged poll fraud in 2004 and 2007. Ahead of the investigation, Zubiri resigned his post as senator.
Although Pimentel, who placed 13th in the 2007 polls after Zubiri, did not automatically succeed the politician from Bukidnon, it certainly paved the way for his eventual assumption.
When Pimentel took his oath as senator, De Lima, then the justice chief, was sought for comments.
"I'm very happy for Koko. Long overdue na rin yung proclamation na yan," De Lima told reporters in August 2011.
(I’m very happy for Koko. His proclamation has been long overdue.)
"When I handled his case way back when I was still in practice, there was no doubt in my mind about the Maguindanao results. [Those] were really manufactured results. Without the Maguindanao results, hindi dapat na-proclaim si former Senator Migz Zubiri (Without the Maguindanao results, former Senator Migz Zubiri should have not been proclaimed)," De Lima said.
Counsel twice over
De Lima handled at least two major cases for Alan Peter Cayetano:
-- Cayetano's victory in the disqualification case against him over his citizenship in 2007.
-- the disqualification of Cayetano's namesake, Joselito Pepito “Peter" Cayetano, in the same year.
But despite this past, Cayetano has been vocal in lambasting De Lima in public.
Cayetano publicly criticized De Lima's handling of the Senate committee on justice and human right's probe on drug-related extra-judicial killings.
Even before De Lima sneaked in her star witness Edgar Matobato to the Senate committee hearings, Cayetano had long expressed his dismay over De Lima.
"Sa isip ni Senator De Lima, guilty na ang administrasyon. Paano mabibigyan ng fair na hearing ito?" he said in a privilege speech at the Senate late August.
(In Senator De Lima’s mind, the administration is already guilty. How can she give a fair hearing?)
In another privilege speech on September 19, Cayetano once again criticized De Lima for supposedly "damaging the image of the country."
Cayetano accused De Lima of destroying the integrity of the Senate and the country for pushing for an investigation into the drug-related killings.
"Senator De Lima, in her desire to destroy the President is destroying the integrity and reputation of the Senate. Worse, damaging the image of the country and the people worldwide," Cayetano said.
It was during the delivery of this privilege speech where De Lima was seen walking out of the Senate floor.
After Cayetano delivered his speech, Senator Manny Pacquiao then moved to declare the post of De Lima as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights vacant.
De Lima was eventually ousted through a Senate majority vote, 16-4, with two abstentions. She was replaced by Senator Richard Gordon.
In an interview, Cayetano admitted that he met with some members of the Senate regarding issues that he wanted his fellow lawmakers to address.