The Department of Justice (DOJ) is moving to indict Sen. Leila de Lima to expedite her arrest in connection with her links to the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said on Tuesday.
In a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editorial team on Tuesday, Aguirre said the drug trafficking charge against the senator will be filed in regular courts instead of the Office of the Ombudsman where cases have often languished.
“A crime not in relation to your office, for example trading of illegal drugs, under the Dangerous Drugs Act, it is provided that the exclusive jurisdiction is with the RTC (regional trial courts),” he explained.
If the judge agrees that there is probable cause to try de Lima for drug trafficking, the former Justice secretary faces certain arrest and may not be able to post bail.
Aguirre noted that under Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act (sale and trading of illegal drugs), taken together with Section 26 (b) (conspiracy), drug trafficking is a non-bailable offense if the evidence of guilt is strong.
Moreover, drug trafficking is a continuing offense and the case can be filed in the places where the crime was committed, he said.
The Cabinet official stressed that there was sufficient evidence against de Lima and the “only legal impediment” is for the judge “not to see the probable cause” against the senator.
Last year, drug kingpin Kerwin Espinosa admitted giving de Lima P8 million to support her senatorial bid in the May 2016 elections. The transactions happened in Baguio City and in Pasay City.
De Lima is also being probed in connection with the complaints filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala, over alleged conspiracy to allow the drug trade inside the NBP.
Aguirre said the cases to be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman will be those in relation to her stint as Justice secretary in the previous administration, in which capacity she had jurisdiction over the national penitentiary.
“The Ombudsman cases will be cases with graft and corruption that will be cognizable with the Sandiganbayan. In other words, if the cases against her are cognizable with the Sandiganbayan, then a preliminary investigation should be conducted by the Ombudsman,” Aguirre said.
It is up to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to adopt any DOJ resolution to indict de Lima at the Sandiganbayan, or not to approve the case at all.
“And since we were the ones who have concurrent jurisdiction and since it is the Ombudsman which has the primary jurisdiction, then we have to forward this with the Ombudsman for further preliminary investigation unless they wanted to adopt the resolution of the DOJ,” Aguirre pointed out.
The DOJ panel probing de Lima is led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong, with Senior Assistant City Prosecutors Alexander Ramos, Leila Llanes, Evangeline Viudez-Canobas and Assistant State Prosecutor Editha Fernandez as members.
‘Safe and secure place’
Senator de Lima on Tuesday expressed hope that she would be put in a safe and secure place in the event that she is arrested in connection with the drug trafficking complaints filed against her.
De Lima said her legal team was preparing for the possible issuance of an arrest warrant against her anytime soon.
“My only request in case that eventuality happened, God forbid, is that I will be placed in a safe and secure place. A lot of things have been happening, there were those being killed inside their cell. So what is another EJK (extra-judicial killing)?” de Lima told reporters.
The embattled senator, a leading critic of the President’s war on drugs, also said she will not resist in case the warrant is served on her.
“I cannot physically resist. I am morally and psychologically resisting it because I’m innocent absolutely, but physically I cannot resist. What can I do?” she added.
De Lima has pending petitions at the Court of Appeals on the first consolidated drug-related cases filed by the VACC, NBI and the two former officials as well as the second complaint linking her to Espinosa.
The senator said her lawyers have filed an urgent motion to resolve her application for a temporary restraining order, but the Court of Appeals has yet to act on it. A number of justices have inhibited from the case.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he would back de Lima’s wish to be detained in a safe place considering that there have been precedents.
Lacson was referring to former senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., who are detained at the custodial center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame over pork barrel misuse.
“If former senators were allowed to be detained in that facility, how much more a sitting senator,” Lacson added.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA