THE Department of Justice (DoJ) on Saturday said calls by Liberal Party (LP) senators for Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd to inhibit in the prosecution of Sen. Leila de Lima have no factual basis, pointing out he had long inhibited from the lawmaker’s three drug-related cases.
“From the start, Secretary Aguirre has inhibited himself from all the cases in the DoJ involving Senator de Lima,” the department said in a statement. “Consequently, the call for him to inhibit himself from the cases has no more factual basis,” it added.
The DoJ rejected de Lima’s claim that she would become the Duterte government’s first political prisoner.
“Cases filed against Senator de Lima are all criminal in nature. Some of these cases involved illegal drugs.
They are not politically motivated. It is wrong for Senator de Lima to refer to herself as a political prisoner. Drug cases do not involve one’s political beliefs. It involves one’s choice to be involved in illegal drugs,” it said.
It also rebutted the LP senators’ argument that de Lima’s cases should have been filed with the Ombudsman, not the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Muntinlupa.
“On the matter of jurisdiction, it is the RTC that has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the three cases, regardless of the high position of the respondent. Trading in illegal drugs has no connection with the performance of her duties as secretary of Justice,” the statement said.
The DoJ pointed out that de Lima herself and other secretaries of Justice before her, prosecuted before the regular courts high-ranking officials like former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former elections commissioners Alfredo Benipayo and Benjamin Abalos, and former congressman Romeo Jalosjos.
LP senators Franklin Drilon, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino 4th and Francis Pangilinan made the call for Aguirre
to inhibit a day after the Justice department filed charges against de Lima for violating provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Act in connection with sale and trading of illegal drugs and criminal liability of government officials and employees before the Muntinlupa court.
“We appeal for total impartiality in the dispensation of justice. Senator de Lima has been pre-judged before any of the charges were filed as no less than the President vowed to destroy her in public and was sure de Lima would land in jail before any case was filed. Secretary Aguirre, being the alter ego of the President, should inhibit in any and all cases filed against Senator de Lima,” the LP senators said in a statement.
President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as Aguirre and several inmates of the New Bilibid Prison have repeatedly accused de Lima of receiving drug payoffs during her time as Justice secretary under the Aquino administration.
Duterte and Aguirre have also slammed de Lima over her romantic affair with her former aide, Ronnie Dayan, pinpointed by the inmates as her bagman.
De Lima had admitted to the romance with Dayan, who is married, but vehemently denies that she received drug money from prison inmates.
“Senator de Lima was not able to file her counter-affidavit so we question whatever ruling the Department of Justice issued without hearing her side of the story,” the LP lawmakers said.
De Lima’s party mates argued that the RTC has no jurisdiction on the charges because violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act fall under “other offenses committed by public officials” listed in the Sandiganbayan Law.
“The LP slams the patently illegal filing of criminal cases against Sen. Leila de Lima before the Regional Trial Court. The Sandiganbayan, not the RTC, has jurisdiction over the case as the alleged wrongdoing were supposedly committed when she was Justice secretary,” they said.
“We maintain that if this warrant of arrest is served, it would be a clear violation of legal proceedings and is therefore a violation of her Constitutional right to due process. We reiterate that an arrest based on trumped-up charges is illegal and assert that the Ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over cases against public officers cognizable by the Sandiganbayan,” LP senators said.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI