Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday failed to convince the Supreme Court (SC) to nullify her arrest for one of the three drug-related cases filed against her over the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison during her term as Justice secretary.
Voting 9 to 6, the high court dismissed for lack of merit De Lima’s petition that questioned the issuance of an arrest warrant by Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 last February.
All six justices who voted in favor of De Lima's plea wrote separate dissenting opinions, while five justices wrote concurring opinions.
En Banc Action: GR 229781The SC, 9-6, DISMISSED Sen. Leila De Lima’s petition for lack of merit; 11 sep opns (5 concurring, 6 dissenting).— Supreme Court PIO (@SCPh_PIO) October 10, 2017
“There are 11 separate opinions (5 concurring, 6 dissenting). Summary to be released as soon as dissents and concurrences are released,” SC spokesperson Theodore Te said.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. wrote the decision which was concurred in by Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes, and Alexander Gesmundo.
The dissenters are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
De Lima has 15 days from receipt of notice to appeal the ruling.
De Lima is also facing illegal drug trading cases before Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon of Branch 206 and Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz of Branch 205, who issued arrest warrants for the senator and her co-accused in June.
In her petition, De Lima asked the SC to set aside the arrest warrant, stop Judge Guerrero from conducting further proceedings for the cases of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading and culpability of government officials and employees, and issue a status quo ante order aimed at restoring the status prior to the issuance of arrest warrant.
The senator said Judge Guerrero committed grave abuse of discretion when she ordered her arrest on February 23 even without resolving her motion to quash that was supposed to have been heard the next day, February 24.
She said the cases should have been referred by the Department of Justice to the Office of the Ombudsman, which has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
The Office of Solicitor General, however, said De Lima should be tried before the RTC and not the Sandiganbayan, citing Section 90 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which provides that RTCs have exclusive jurisdiction to try and hear cases involving illegal drug activities.
Some of the justices also questioned during the oral arguments in March why De Lima immediately elevated the case to the high tribunal when ordinary and non-prominent drug suspects would usually go through the hierarchy of courts — from the trial courts to the appellate court before ultimately running to the SC.
Only RTCs have jurisdiction over drug cases
In its decision, the SC said the RTC has jurisdiction over drug cases and that the Sandiganbayan is only limited to offenses under the anti-graft laws.
“It also noted that the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC over violations of Republic Act 9165 [Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002] is not transferred to the Sandiganbayan whenever the accused occupies a position classified as Grade 27 or higher, regardless of whether the violation is alleged to have been committed in relation to the office being occupied,” the SC Public Information Office said.
“The Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is limited to violations of the anti-graft laws and do not extend to violations of the drugs law.”
The SC also said the judge was not required to resolve De Lima’s motion to quash before issuing a warrant of arrest.
“For this reason, the Court found that respondent judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed order dated February 23, 2017 even before resolving petitioner’s motion to quash,” it said.
The Court disagreed with De Lima’s assertion that Judge Guerrero did not personally determine probable cause for the issuance of the warrant of arrest simply because the judge relied on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation and not on the report and supporting documents submitted by the prosecution.
“It cannot be said that the respondent judge was remiss in her duty to determine probable cause personally. The Court noted the affidavits of NBI Agent Jovencio Ablen, petitioner’s co-accused Rafael Ragos, and convicted felon Peter Co, all of which outline a case for illegal drug trading committed in conspiracy with petitioner and her co-accused,” the SC said.
De Lima’s petition was also premature and had violated the rule on hierarchy of courts and the prohibition against forum shopping.
“The Court also found that the petition was not properly executed under oath and that the jurat (certification) was defective for not having subscribed to the same in the presence of the notary public,” the SC said.
Days before the high court handed down its ruling, De Lima urged Velasco to inhibit from the deliberation on her petition, citing the magistrate’s links to convicted drug lord German Agojo.
Velasco denied De Lima's claim that he pushed for the acquittal of Agojo, a witness in the drug cases against the senator, when the SC Second Division decided on the case in 2009.
He said he does not know nor has met Agojo and “has no relationship whatsoever with the alleged drug lord.”
De Lima is accused of complicity in the trading of illegal drugs at the NBP in exchange for campaign funds in her senatorial bid last year.
The lawmaker has repeatedly denied the charges, saying they were filed due to her continued attacks on the Duterte administration’s heavy handed approach to curbing illegal drugs that has claimed thousands of lives through police operations and vigilante killings.
De Lima is currently detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center inside Camp Crame in Quezon City. — MDM/KBK/RSJ, GMA News