JAILED Sen. Leila de Lima on Monday refused to enter a plea before a Quezon City court when she was arraigned in a case accusing her of ignoring an inquiry of the House of Representatives on the supposed drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, and dissuading her former lover and bodyguard from testifying before it.
Judge Ludmila de Pio Lim of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 34 entered a “not guilty” plea for de Lima, who was brought back to the Camp Crame custodial center after the hearing.
One of de Lima’s counsels, Philip Sawali, said de Lima did not enter any plea as she does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Quezon City court. The de Lima camp argued that she should have been investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman, not the Justice department, and charged before the Sandiganbayan that tries cases against government officials.
The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments today on de Lima’s plea to junk all cases against her, including drug trafficking charges filed by the Justice department before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.
House leaders had accused de Lima of advising her former bodyguard and ex-lover Ronnie Dayan to evade last year’s House inquiry, which prosecutors said was a violation of Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code.
Sawali said the senator was confident of her legal defense even if this was the price for going against President Rodrigo Duterte.
De Lima has been criticizing the President for supposed human rights violations and killings in his war on illegal drugs.
Hours before the 2 p.m. hearing, hundreds of de Lima supporters held a rally in front of the Quezon City Hall of
Justice. Some 50 protesters, clad in blue shirts and waving posters with the words “Free de Lima,” stormed the hall.
One of the female protesters claimed de Lima was a victim of fake charges and fake evidence, while her companions accused Duterte of political harassment.
They claimed the Duterte administration had an axe to grind against de Lima for her investigation into killings involving the “Davao Death Squad” when she was chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and when the president was still Davao City mayor.
Members of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption that had filed charges against de Lima were outside the courtroom during the hearing.
De Lima, who was escorted by members of the Quezon City Police District, did not entertain questions, and just smiled and waved to the crowd when she boarded her vehicle.
The next hearing was set on April 26 at 2 p.m., with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez expected to take the witness stand.
House counsel Rigoroso Galindez said six witnesses would take the stand, including Alvarez, House Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas and House justice panel chief Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
Amendment in favor of de Lima?
Ahead of today’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court, a magistrate sought an amendment into one of the “substantive issues” to be tackled – whether the Regional Trial Court or the Sandiganbayan has the jurisdiction over the violation of Republic Act (RA) 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Law.
The Manila Times obtained a copy of an internal memorandum by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen to Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. who is tasked to study and make a draft decision on de Lima’s plea.
In the memo, Leonen said the case should not be confined to violation of RA 9165. “So as not to confine the case to a particular crime, may I suggest that in the first substantive issue, violation of RA 9165 be amended to read ‘offense,’” the memo stated.
De Lima alleges, the memo noted, that the acts charged corresponded to direct bribery.
Leonen is an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd. De Lima, a former Justice secretary, was an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council that shortlisted the name of Leonen for appointment to the court.
Newly appointed justices Samuel Martires and Noel Tijam will attend today’s hearing.
On February 28, the high court let de Lima remain in detention and did not issue a stay order on her plea to stop the trial of her drug trafficking cases in the Muntinlupa City courts.
Instead, the justices set the case for oral arguments, and ordered respondents led by Muntinlupa Judge Juanita Guerrero and Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald de la Rosa to comment on de Lima’s petition.
In her petition, de Lima asked the Supreme Court to nullify her arrest warrant on drug trading charges and questioned the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa court.
The senator said the Muntinlupa court committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the arrest order, as she had a pending motion to quash the case and had questioned the court’s jurisdiction.
She said the Office of the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over her case since she was charged on the grounds that she used her position as secretary of Justice, “specifically that she demanded, solicited and extorted money from the [prison]inmates through her alleged intermediaries/bagmen namely, [Rafael Ragos and Ronnie Dayan].”
WITH A REPORT FROM DEMPSEY REYES AND JOMAR CANLAS