SC rul­ings dou­ble whammy for De Lima

The Philippine Star - - NEWS - By EDU PUNAY

BAGUIO CITY – It was a dou­ble whammy yes­ter­day for Sen. Leila de Lima af­ter the Supreme Court (SC) re­jected her pe­ti­tion to be re­leased from de­ten­tion and voided her au­thor­ity when she was jus­tice chief to stop in­di­vid­u­als fac­ing crim­i­nal charges from leav­ing the coun­try.

In­sid­ers said the SC jus­tices voted 9-5 in sum­mer ses­sion here to deny with fi­nal­ity De Lima’s mo­tion for re­con­sid­er­a­tion of their de­ci­sion in Oc­to­ber last year to dis­miss for lack of merit her pe­ti­tion seek­ing her re­lease from de­ten­tion and stop­ping her in­dict­ment for al­legedly tak­ing part in and ben­e­fit­ting from the il­le­gal drug trade at the New Bili­bid Prison.

The jus­tices also voted unan­i­mously to de­clare as un­con­sti­tu­tional De Lima’s Cir­cu­lar No. 41, which she used in 2011 to stop for­mer pres­i­dent Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal-Ar­royo from leav­ing the coun­try to seek treat­ment abroad for her hy­poparathy­roidism and metabolic bone dis­or­der while fac­ing elec­toral sab­o­tage charges.

Two sources, who re­quested anonymity for lack of au­thor­ity to speak for the court, re­vealed that a ma­jor­ity of jus­tices be­lieved De Lima’s ar­gu­ments in her ap­peal for re­lease from de­ten­tion were “mostly re­hashed of her pre­vi­ous ar­gu­ments.”

As­so­ciate Jus­tices Pres­bitero Ve­lasco Jr. penned the rul­ing with eight mag­is­trates – As­so­ciate Jus­tices Tere­sita Leonardo-de Cas­tro, Dios­dado Per­alta, Lu­cas Ber­samin, Mar­i­ano del Castillo, Samuel Mar­tires, Noel Ti­jam, An­dres Reyes and Alexan­der Ges­mundo – con­cur­ring.

The se­na­tor has been in de­ten­tion at the PNP cus­to­dial cen­ter since Fe­bru­ary 2017. Her ar­rest was on the strength of a war­rant is­sued by Muntinlupa City Re­gional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guer­rero.

The five mag­is­trates who dis­sented were act­ing Chief Jus­tice An­to­nio Car­pio and As­so­ciate Jus­tices Estela Per­las Bern­abe, Mar­vic Leo­nen, Fran­cis Jardeleza and Ben­jamin Caguioa.

Chief Jus­tice Maria Lour­des Sereno, who is fac­ing ouster cases in both Congress and the SC, did not par­tic­i­pate in the vot­ing as she has been on in­def­i­nite leave.

The SC has not an­nounced and re­leased the rul­ing pend­ing com­ple­tion of all con­cur­ring and dis­sent­ing opin­ions of jus­tices, sources said.

The high court, ac­cord­ing to the in­sid­ers, stood firm in its find­ing that the RTC has ex­clu­sive ju­ris­dic­tion over the drug charges against De Lima – even if her po­si­tion has a salary grade higher than 27, which is the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Sandi­gan­bayan.

“The ex­clu­sive orig­i­nal ju­ris­dic­tion of the RTC over vi­o­la­tions of RA 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 court had ex­plained in its ear­lier de­ci­sion.

“The Sandi­gan­bayan’s ju­ris­dic­tion is lim­ited to vi­o­la­tions of the anti-graft laws and does not ex­tend to vi­o­la­tions of the drugs law,” it said.

The SC also re­jected De Lima’s ar­gu­ment that the crim­i­nal cases against her should be di­rect bribery and not vi­o­la­tion of Repub­lic Act 9165 (Com­pre­hen­sive Dan­ger­ous Drugs Act).

It also ruled that Judge Guer­rero of the Muntinlupa RTC did not com­mit grave abuse of dis­cre­tion in or­der­ing the ar­rest of De Lima and find­ing prob­a­ble cause in the charges against her.

“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 SC pointed out.

Lastly, the SC added that De Lima’s pe­ti­tion was pre­ma­ture as it vi­o­lated the rule on hi­er­ar­chy of courts and the pro­hi­bi­tion against fo­rum shop­ping.

The se­na­tor ar­gued that the al­le­ga­tions against her do not ac­tu­ally con­sti­tute sale and trad­ing of il­le­gal drugs and li­a­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials un­der Repub­lic Act 9165 (Com­pre­hen­sive Dan­ger­ous Drugs Act), but rather only di­rect bribery.

In the drug cases, De Lima is ac­cused of re­ceiv­ing around P10 mil­lion in drug pay­offs from Novem­ber 2012 to early 2013 through her co-ac­cused, for­mer Bu­reau of Cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer-in-charge Rafael Ra­gos.

2010 or­der scrapped

Also yes­ter­day, the SC struck down a 2010 or­der of then jus­tice chief De Lima grant­ing her­self the au­thor­ity to pre­vent the flight of sus­pects and per­son­al­i­ties fac­ing crim­i­nal charges.

De Lima had used the same or­der to pre­vent Ar­royo’s hus­band, Jose Miguel Ar­royo, and for­mer Philip­pine Amuse­ment and Gam­ing Corp. chair­man Ephraim Gen­uino from leav­ing the coun­try.

The Ar­royos and Gen­uino con­tested the cir­cu­lar which had the same ef­fect as a court-is­sued hold de­par­ture or­der.

The court ruled that the DOJ sec­re­tary has had no au­thor­ity un­der the law to stop re­spon­dents or ac­cused in crim­i­nal cases from leav­ing the coun­try, as only trial courts can is­sue hold or­ders.

The SC held that the as­sailed cir­cu­lar and all suc­ceed­ing watch­list or­ders based on it vi­o­lated the right to travel of the sub­jects un­der Ar­ti­cle III, Sec­tion 6 of the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion.

“The Court, in in­ter­pret­ing Ar­ti­cle III, Sec­tion 6, deter­mined that there was no le­gal ba­sis for the Depart­ment Cir­cu­lar No. 41 be­cause of the ab­sence of a law au­tho­riz­ing the Sec­re­tary of Jus­tice to is­sue Hold De­par­ture Or­ders, Watch List Or­ders (WLO) or Al­low De­par­ture Or­ders,” SC spokesman Theodore Te said in a press con­fer­ence.

“The lib­erty of abode and of chang­ing the same within the lim­its pre­scribed by law shall not be im­paired ex­cept upon law­ful or­der of the court. Nei­ther shall the right to travel be im­paired ex­cept in the in­ter­est of na­tional se­cu­rity, pub­lic safety, or pub­lic health, as may be pro­vided by law,” read a pro­vi­sion in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

The high court has not im­me­di­ately re­leased copies of the de­ci­sion pend­ing sub­mis­sion of all con­cur­ring opin­ions by jus­tices.

It was not clear then how the rul­ing would ap­ply to the cur­rent pol­icy of the DOJ on is­su­ing an Im­mi­gra­tion Look­out Bul­letin Or­der, which De Lima for­mu­lated to re­place the WLO and which Vi­tal­iano Aguirre II also im­ple­mented when he was jus­tice chief.

The SC had is­sued a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der on Cir­cu­lar No. 41 on Nov. 15, 2011 upon pe­ti­tion of Mrs. Ar­royo.

The for­mer pres­i­dent, in a wheel­chair, ar­rived at the air­port later that day armed with the or­der from the SC. De Lima is­sued the WLO against her af­ter the DOJ in­dicted her in an elec­toral sab­o­tage case, for which she was later cleared.

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