With a vote of 9-6, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, October 10, dismissed Senator Leila De Lima’s petition that questioned the legality of the arrest warrant issued against her by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC).
In an en banc session, the high court also ruled to reject the senator’s petition to nullify the illegal drug charges filed against her.
De Lima, in her petition, insisted that it was the Sandiganbayan which has jurisdiction over the drug cases against her. She argued that she falls under the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court because of her salary grade during her term as the Justice secretary when she allegedly committed the offense.
The senator also accused Judge Juanita Guerrero of committing grave abuse of discretion for ordering her on February 23 earlier this year without resolving her motion to quash. De Lima likewise pleaded the high court to stop Guerrero from conducting further proceedings on her drug case.
However, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., the SC maintained that the RTC has jurisdiction over drug cases regardless of the official’s salary grade.
“It also noted that the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC over violations of (Republic Act) 9165 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 decision read.
It pointed out that the Sandiganbayan is only “limited to violations of the anti-graft laws and do not extend to violations of the drugs law.”
The high court also ruled that Guerrero did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing an arrest warrant against the senator, saying that the judge was not required to resolve De Lima’s motion to quash it.
“The Court noted that respondent judge considered all the evidence presented at the preliminary investigation and not simply the report and the supporting evidence the prosecution proposed to present at the trial, which was based on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation,” the decision further read.
Among the justices who concurred in the main ruling were Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes, and Alexander Gesmundo.
The dissenters, meanwhile, are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
In February, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed three complaints against De Lima in relation to the alleged drug proliferation inside the National Bilibid Prison (NBP).
De Lima was accused of receiving bribes from drug lords in exchange of their protection when she was the Justice secretary. She was also accused of using the money from drug trade to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.
In a statement, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II welcomed the high court’s move.
“I think that’s a correct decision. It’s the decision we have been fighting for. Tama lang (It’s just right) that our position that the RTC has jurisdiction has been vindicated,” Aguirre said.
With the SC’s ruling, the Justice secretary noted that De Lima’s trial and arraignment scheduled on Friday, October 13 could proceed, “assuming that there would be no motion to make amendment to the information.”
Following the high court’s decision, several minority senators expressed support for the detained senator.
In a statement, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon expressed his disappointment but added that he respects the SC’s decision.
“Nakakalungkot. Ang aking paniwala ay dapat Ombudsman ang mag-hear nito. (It’s saddening. My belief is that the Ombudsman should hear the case.) But I respect the decision of the Supreme Court. I’m a lawyer and former justice secretary, I disagree but I will respect the SC decision,” Drilon told reporters.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, on the other hand, said that the SC’s decision proved President Rodrigo Duterte’s “total control and manipulation of the three branches of government.”
“The SC ruling is quite unfortunate as it virtually puts a stamp of legitimacy on the political persecution and injustice being done to Sen. Leila De lima. It also highlighted Duterte’s total control and manipulation of the three branches of government for his evil political ends. Dapat tindigan natin ito (We should stand up against this),” he added.
For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros said the fight to free De Lima remains, as she urged people to support the detained senator.
“Nakakalungkot ang desisyon. Ganun pa man, tuloy ang laban para palayain si Senator Leila De Lima sa pagkakapiit gamit ang mga peke at walang basehang kaso (The decision is saddening but the fight for Senator Leila de Lima’s release from jail using fake and baseless case is on),” Hontiveros said.
A staunch critic of Duterte, De Lima and other critics of the administration has considered herself as the president’s “political prisoner.” She is being detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.