THE Justice department on Wednesday slapped Sen. Leila de Lima with a criminal charge for disobeying summons from Congress, for telling her former bodyguard and lover Ronnie Dayan to go in hiding and snub an inquiry on the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
The charge for violation of Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code was filed against de Lima before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court. No bail was recommended, but the court was not expected to issue a warrant because the charge involves a light offense.
De Lima deplored on Wednesday what she said was a rush to “crucify” her publicly, pointing out that the charge was mischaracterized in the press as obstruction of justice when Article 50 involves merely disobedience to summons.
The same provision however also penalizes “any person who shall restrain another from attending as a witness, or who shall induce disobedience to a summon or refusal to be sworn by any such body or official.”
De Lima said her office had received a copy of a resolution by the National Prosecution Service finding probable case against her, but not the complaint.
“Unfortunately, since the NPS did not notify or serve me a copy of the complaint, I am in the difficult and lamentable position of standing publicly accused without even knowing what the allegations against me are,” she said in a statement.
“This rush to crucify me publicly through inaccurate press releases and statements, even before allowing me the chance to learn about the charges against me and to prepare my defense, speaks loudly and clearly of the real motivation behind the filing of this case.”
De Lima said there was no basis to charge her for obstruction of justice under Presidential Decree No. 1829 as the House inquiry was not a criminal proceeding.
Case filed last week
Court insiders said the case was filed on December 15 by Assistant State Prosecutor Vilma Lopez-Sarmiento of the Department of Justice (DOJ), but the complaint was received only on Wednesday.
A four-page resolution finding probable cause against de Lima was signed and approved by Jorge Catalan, officer in charge of the prosecutor general’s office.
The charges stemmed from the complaint filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and justice committee chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali before the DoJ against de Lima for snubbing a summons from Congress and stopping Dayan from testifying.
Dayan was arrested on November 22 and appeared before the House inquiry the following day, claiming he gave millions in protection money from drug kingpin Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. to de Lima in 2014, when she was still DOJ secretary.
The DOJ said it did not conduct a preliminary investigation. Under the Rules on Summary Procedure, it can file a case directly before the court if the penalty is imprisonment of less than six months. De Lima was not asked to submit a counter-affidavit.
Violation of Article 150 has a penalty of arresto mayor or one month and one day up to six months of imprisonment, or a fine ranging from P200 to P1,000, or both.
De Lima “willfully, knowingly and unlawfully” advised Dayan not to attend the House investigation through a text message to Dayan’s daughter Hannah Mae, “despite receipt of the subpoena,” the DOJ said.
It said de Lima’s advice to Mr. Dayan through his daughter “to hide and not to appear in the House inquiry constitutes an act amounting to restraining another to attend as a witness in the national assembly (now Congress of the Philippines) and inducing disobedience to a summon.”
De Lima was invited to attend the congressional inquiry on the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison on September 20 and 21 and October 5 and 6, but the senator ignored the invitations. A subpoena was also issued to Dayan, who likewise ignored the summons, prompting the House to cite him in contempt.
Govt lawyers intervene
Also on Wednesday, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) entered its appearance in a preliminary investigation against de Lima for separate complaints involving drug trafficking and graft, a rare move.
Solicitor General Jose Calida himself entered his appearance, as “The Tribune of the People.”
According to the OSG website, the solicitor general may represent the government and/or the people “before any court, tribunal, body or commission in any matter, action or proceedings which, in his opinion affects the welfare of the people as the ends of justice may require.”
Calida described de Lima as the “high priestess of hyprocrisy,” “patron saint of narco-politics” and “public enemy number one.”
During the hearing, Calida introduced himself as co-counsel for complainants Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors Ruel Lasala and Reynaldo Esmeralda.
It was the conclusion of the preliminary investigation on the Bilibid drug mess, two days after Calida vowed to use the powers of his office to back the drug trafficking and graft complaints filed against De Lima.
The last time the OSG joined a case as “The Tribune of the People” was during the oral arguments in the Supreme Court over the citizenship case of Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares.
De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon expressed reservation on the OSG’s intervention in the preliminary investigation, saying the solicitor general could play a “material” role if and when the complaints reach the court.
A five-man DOJ panel of prosecutors ruled that the complaint be submitted for resolution.
The panel is headed 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.