A predecessor of former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima slammed the now neophyte senator for being ignorant of the “vast powers” that allowed an overwhelming majority of the Supreme Court (SC) to acquit former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder.
Hernando Perez, who served as Justice secretary in the early years of the Arroyo Administration from 2001 to 2003, also warned that criminal counter-charges for incriminating “innocent persons” could be filed against de Lima, who orchestrated Arroyo’s arrest for an earlier case alleging electoral sabotage as Department of Justice chief of the previous Aquino Administration.
The same charge could also be filed against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the prosecutor of the dismissed plunder case at the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, he said.
Perez lambasted de Lima for casting doubts on the Supreme Court ruling when she claimed on Tuesday that the high tribunal had become a “trier of facts” and should not have reviewed Arroyo’s case.
“While it is true that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts, it has the power to re-examine the evidence presented at the Sandiganbayan,” said Perez, now president of the privately owned University of Batangas.
“She (de Lima) is wrong. The Supreme Court has the power to review the case via a petition for certiorari,” Perez added.
Under the power of judicial review provided under Article XIII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, the high court can review cases when there is “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
As to the possible suits against de Lima and Morales, Perez said that a person who had filed malicious charges without any evidence could be charged with malicious prosecution, which warrants damages under the Civil Code.
They can also be slapped with a criminal case for “Incriminatory Machinations” under the Revised Penal Code.
“It is possible that they can be charged if proven that the case filed against GMA is without any substantial evidence,” Perez told The Manila Times.
Incriminating an innocent person, under the Penal Code, happens when “Any person who, by any act not constituting perjury, shall directly incriminate or impute to an innocent person the commission of a crime.”
It is punishable by up to 30 days in prison.
Arroyo can even argue that the case filed against her by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman was “political,” the former House Deputy Speaker and representative of Batangas said.
De Lima orchestrated the filing of electoral sabotage cases in the Pasay Regional Trial Court against Arroyo, which prevented her from leaving the country in 2011 despite the fact the “watchlist” order of de Lima was stopped by a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.
De Lima, invoking supposed “residual powers” of the Executive branch, defied the SC order and stopped Arroyo from leaving the country.
Eventually, the non-bailable electoral sabotage cases against Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Afterwards, Morales orchestrated the filing of another non-bailable criminal charge of plunder before the Sandiganbayan, involving the alleged misuse of P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) from 2008 to 2010.
This was the case thrown out by the SC in an 11-4 vote that cleared Arroyo and former PCSO official Benigno Aguas via a demurrer to evidence, in which the defendants sought the dismissal of charges due to weak evidence presented by the prosecution.
Morales on Wednesday stood firm that her office had presented strong evidence against Arroyo, and said another plunder charge was being readied against the former President, also involving PCSO funds, amounting to P57 million for the years 2004 to 2007.
“We were able to present strong evidence consisting of 630-plus documentary exhibits, of testimony of so many witnesses, which are reflected in 43 transcripts of stenographic notes, as well as the records of the case from A to Z consisting of 40-plus folder records of the case,” Morales told reporters in a news conference.
The Ombudsman said she has yet to receive a copy of the SC ruling acquitting Arroyo but will consider filing a motion for reconsideration, among other legal options.
“Marami, marami tayong [We have a lot of] legal options. I’m not going to place our cards on the table. I don’t like to open the eyes of our detractors,” she said.
But Arroyo’s lawyer Laurence Arroyo (not related) said an acquittal cannot be reconsidered by the courts, to avoid double jeopardy, citing a ruling that Morales herself signed when she was Associate Justice of the high court.
“In Lejano v People, GR 176389, Jan.18 2011, an en banc case, concurred in by then Justice Morales, the Supreme Court held that, as a rule, a judgment of acquittal cannot be reconsidered because it places the accused under double jeopardy. To reconsider a judgment of acquittal places the accused twice in jeopardy of being punished for the crime of which the accused has already been absolved,” he said in a statement.