There were irregularities in the way Justice Secretary Leila de Lima handled the review of the kidnapping and serious illegal detention case involving leaders of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ), according to sources of The Manila Times–including two former secretaries of Justice and ranking prosecutors.
The alleged mishandling of the case filed by expelled church minister Isaias Samson Jr. against members of the INC Sanggunian (Council) was widely believed as the reason why thousands of church members spilled into Padre Faura Street (Manila) and later to the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue-Shaw Boulevard intersection in Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) and cried religious persecution against the government.
Prosecutor-General Claro Arellano on Monday said the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not acted on the complaint filed against the church officials.
He added that no prosecutor has been assigned to take on the case almost a week after expelled Samson, his wife and son filed a complaint against the Sanggunian members.
The Samsons named Glicerio Santos Jr., Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago Sr., Mathusalem Pareja, Rolando Esguerra, Eraño Codera, Rodelio Cabrerra and Maximo Bularan in their complaint for harassment, illegal detention, threats and coercion.
Another complaint for harassment was filed by former church member Lito Fruto against INC leaders last week.
A prosecutor disclosed to The Manila Times that de Lima has a penchant for summoning prosecutors to her office in connection with certain cases under their review.
“Nakikialam si de Lima sa kaso eh preliminary investigation level pa lang. Minsan nga kahit fact-finding investigation ng NBI pinapapelan na niya. Bakit hindi niya hintayin na umakyat sa kanya ang kaso kapag petition for review stage na [She is meddling in cases even though they are still at the preliminary investigation level. There are times when she would also dip her fingers into fact-finding investigations being conducted by the National Bureau if Investigation. Why can’t she wait for the cases to get elevated to her]?” the prosecutor remarked.
A former DOJ secretary said when a case is in the preliminary investigation stage, only prosecutors up to the Prosecutor-General are the ones in charge.
Section 2, Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, states that officials authorized to conduct preliminary investigations are: “(a) Provincial of City Prosecutors and their assistants; (b) Judges of the Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts; National and Regional State Prosecutors; and Other officers as may be authorized by law.”
It was pointed out that there is no mention of the Secretary of Justice being authorized to interfere in the case during the preliminary investigation and there is no law giving the Justice secretary the power to conduct a preliminary investigation.
The former official said that during his watch, the DOJ chief cannot interfere in a case during preliminary investigation since the process will reach the Office of the Secretary of Justice when a petition for review of the case is filed.
“During my time as Secretary of Justice, I do not interfere in cases at the preliminary investigation level because the appeal will be with the [SOJ] via petition for review,” he told The Manila Times.
Another former Justice secretary said de Lima’s alleged interference in the INC case is a clear example of “unethical meddling” with the powers of the prosecutor to conduct a preliminary investigation.
“If upon petition by a proper party under such rules as the [DOJ] may prescribe or motu propio, the Secretary of Justice reverses or modifies the resolution of the provincial or city prosecutor or chief state prosecutor, he shall direct the prosecutor concerned either to file the corresponding information without conducting another preliminary investigation, or to dismiss or move for dismissal of the complaint or information with notice to the parties.
The same rule shall apply in preliminary investigations conducted by the officers of the Office of the Ombudsman,” Section 4, Rule 112 states.
Another rule that was cited was the 2000 National Prosecution Service Rules on Appeal to which preliminary investigation is within the province only of the prosecutors.
“Section 1. Scope. – This Rule shall apply to appeals from resolutions of the Chief State Prosecutor, Regional State Prosecutors and Provincial/City Prosecutors in cases subject of preliminary investigation/reinvestigation. Section 4. How appeal is taken. An aggrieved party may appeal by filing a verified petition for review with the Office of the Secretary, Department of Justice, and by furnishing copies thereof to the adverse party and the Prosecution Office issuing the appealed resolution,” it states.
Duterte defends Leila
The embattled de Lima has found an ally in Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
“Of course I sympathize with her,” the mayor said on Sunday night.
“Although in the past, we had an exchange of words, those were days of work. She has a duty, I have mine,” Duterte added.
He and de Lima, both graduates of the San Beda College of Law, have been exchanging criticisms over the latter’s links to unsolved killings in his city.
Duterte, a former city prosecutor, however, said de Lima should have allowed the prosecutors in the INC case to do their work.
“[The case] should have been handled by the fiscal,” he added. “But if you give it too much importance, it seems like you are asking for attention. I am not saying that de Lima was asking for one.”
The fiscal, he said, has jurisdiction over the case. “Kapag ganon, naghahanap ka ng gulo [If that’s the case, you are looking for trouble],” Duterte said.
“Give it to the fiscal, whether you file a case or not. After all, the fiscal has the original jurisdiction over the issue.”
WITH JEFRY TUPAS