By Rey G. Panaligan
Detained Senator Leila de Lima asked the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday to reverse its October 10 decision that affirmed her arrest and detention on the illegal drugs trading charges filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ) last February.
In a motion for reconsideration, De Lima reiterated her plea for immediate release from detention and the nullification of the criminal charges filed against her before the sala of regional trial court (RTC) Judge Juanita Guerrero of Branch 204 in Muntinlupa City.
She also prodded the inhibition of Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., the writer of the October 10 decision that was concurred in by eight other justices.
The lady senator was arrested last week of February and is now detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center in Quezon City.
Her co-accused, Rafael Marcos Z. Ragos – former officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – has surrendered and has been committed for detention by the trial court at the NBI in Manila.
Another co-accused, De Lima’s former driver and former alleged boyfriend Ronnie Palisoc Dayan had been arrested and is detained at the Muntinlupa City jail.
In Criminal Case No. 17-165 before the sale of Judge Guerrero, De Lima, Ragos, and Dayan were charged with “illegal drug trading in violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Section 5 (sale), in relation to Section 3 (jj) (trading), Section 25 (b), and Section 28, Republic Act No. 9165.”
De Lima has two other criminal cases pending with two other branches of the Muntinlupa RTC. These cases for illegal drug trading and criminal liability of government officials and employees under RA 9165 are pending with Judge Amelia Fabros Corpuz of Branch 205 and Judge Patria Manalastas De Leon of Branch 206.
In Branch 205, De Lima was charged together with his nephew Jose Adrian Dera, while in Branch 206 she was indicted together with former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez, Dayan, and Dera.
Last February 14, the three criminal cases were filed by the DOJ on complaints lodged by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); the NBI; former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala, and inmate Sebastian.
De Lima had filed a motion to quash the criminal charges. Even before the resolution of the motion, Judge Guerrero issued the arrest order on the finding of “sufficient probable cause.”
With her arrest and detention, De Lima filed a petition with the SC.
In its decision, the SC dismissed the petition and directed the trial court to proceed with dispatch in the resolution of the criminal case.
The SC ruled that Judge Guerrero “did not gravely abuse her discretion in finding probable cause to order the petitioner’s arrest.”
It noted that “there was no positive duty on the part of respondent judge to first resolve petitioner’s Motion to Quash before issuing a warrant of arrest; the Court noted that there is no rule of procedure, statute, or jurisprudence to support this claim.”
“The Court also found that the text of respondent judge’s Order did not violate petitioner’s constitutional rights and is not contrary to established jurisprudence on determining probable cause. The Court disagreed with petitioner’s assertion that respondent judge 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.”
In her motion, De Lima said the decision “is unfair because it unsettles established doctrine, misapplies unrelated canons, and most importantly, fails to render good judgment.”
“Just as glaring as the unconstitutional haste perpetrated by the respondent judge in this case – the ‘arrest now, worry later’ plan – is the bogus character of the allegations as reflected in the Information, which has now found safe haven in the Honorable Court’s decision. Petitioner cautions the Honorable Members of the Court to pause and consider the grave implications of sustaining an Information that does not allege any corpus delicti” (the body of the crime).
At the same time, De Lima asked the justices “to look into the Summation of Votes because the distribution of the votes goes into the binding effect of the Decision and, consequently, impacts the right of the Petitioner to be immediately released.”
“Bluntly put, in the absence of a majority to sustain the validity of the Information, Petitioner is entitled to an immediate release from pre-trial detention as a matter of right. In Javellana v. Executive Secretary,11 while the insufficiency in the number of votes led to the unfortunate validation of the 1973 Constitution, in this case, a similar insufficiency in the number of votes to sustain the Information ought to lead to a fortunate result—the immediate release of Petitioner,” she said.
“If a majority of the Members of the Honorable Court itself cannot agree on the nature of the criminal charges, it can only mean that there is no valid Information to sustain Petitioner’s pre-trial detention,” she added.
De Lima claimed that of the nine justices who voted to dismiss her petition, only five of them agreed that the crime charged is Illegal Drug Trading (the original accusation of the DOJ), not Conspiracy to Commit Drug Trading (the subsequent accusation of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
“In fact, three justices, in their Separate Concurring Opinions, understand the Information as charging the crime of Conspiracy to Commit Drug Trading, an entirely different offense as everyone who has taken up basic criminal law will certainly know,” she said.
“On the other hand, one member of the Honorable Court remains vague about whether the Information charges Illegal Drug Trading or Conspiracy to Commit Drug Trading,” she stressed.
It was not known, immediately if De Lima’s motion for reconsideration will be taken up on November 7, the day the SC resumes its full court session after the holiday recess.