De Lima stays in jail, Supreme Court rules

BY ADRIAN STEWART CO and PRINCE GOLEZ

MANILA – The Supreme Court denied Sen. Leila de Lima’s petition seeking her release and the dismissal of the illegal drug charges filed against her.

Voting 9-6 in an en banc session on Tuesday, the high court justices upheld the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) over de Lima’s cases.

Those who voted to junk the petition were associate justices Presbitero Velasco, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, and Mariano del Castillo.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and associate justices Antonio Carpio, Marvic Leonen, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, and Francis Jardeleza voted for the senator’s release from detention.

De Lima was detained at the Philippine National Police custodial center after her arrest in February.

Muntinlupa RTC Branch 2014 Judge Juanita Guerrero issued arrest warrants against her, former driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan and former Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos.

De Lima was accused of tolerating and benefitting from the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was Justice secretary. She allegedly received kickbacks from drug lords. She has repeatedly denied these.

Her petition lacked merit since the Justice department, now under Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, has the authority to file drug-related charges against de Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC, the high court said.

“The admissibility of evidence, their evidentiary weight, probative value, and the credibility of the witness are matters that are best left to be resolved in a full blown trial,” said the Supreme Court.

“Thus, the better alternative is to proceed to the conduct of trial on the merits for the petitioner (de Lima) and the prosecution to present their respective evidence in support of their allegations.”

The high court also ruled that the Muntinlupa RTC judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the arrest warrant against de Lima despite her pending motion to quash.

Moreover, the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over de Lima’s drug-related cases, the Supreme Court said.

The Liberal Party expressed regret over the high court ruling.

“We understand that her (de Lima) camp will file a motion for reconsideration, and we trust that the magistrates will give the case a thorough second look and decide based on what is just and right,” said the party.

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws,” the party said, citing Section 1 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution.

In June, Muntinlupa RTC Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz also ordered the arrest of de Lima and Jose Adrian Dera based on testimonies from high-profile Bilibid inmate Peter Co.

De Lima still has a pending case before the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 under Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon, with former Bucor chief Franklin Bucayu as co-respondent./PN