JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd on Monday defended the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug trafficking charges, and expressed confidence her arrest warrant won’t be overturned by the Supreme Court.
“Nil! No chance! The arrest is perfectly legal,” Aguirre said in a text message.
It is now de Lima’s turn to seek refuge from the high tribunal, which she defied in 2011 when she barred former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving for a medical check-up abroad despite the court’s go-signal.
Aguirre said de Lima cannot question the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) on her drug case as the matter had been settled in jurisprudence.
“I don’t know why they (de Lima camp) refused to understand. Even de Lima filed cases against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (electoral sabotage), former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos and former Comelec chairman Alfredo Benipayo before the RTC,” Aguirre said.
Prosecutors have concurrent jurisdiction over the case based on a 2004 ruling in relation to the coup d’etat charges against Sen. Gregorio Honasan 2nd for his alleged involvement in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny.
The court ruled that under the 1987 Constitution, Section 15 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 and Section 4 of the Sandiganbayan Law “do not give to the Ombudsman exclusive jurisdiction to investigate offenses committed by public officers or employees.”
De Lima, who says the charges were fabricated to silence her criticism of the government, wants to nullify her February 23 arrest warrant on drug trading charges, and is questioning the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa RTC.
The RTC Branch 204 under Judge Juanita Guerrero committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the order because the judge has yet to act on a pending motion to quash the case, which was filed on February 20, the lawmaker said.
The senator argued that the Office of the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over her case since she was charged on the basis that she used her position as secretary of Justice in relation to the alleged criminal acts, “specifically that she demanded, solicited and extorted money from the [New Bilibid Prison] inmates through her alleged intermediaries/bagmen namely, [Rafael Ragos and Ronnie Dayan].”
She said there was not even an iota of proof linking her to the illegal drug trade. The case should be for “direct bribery” under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code, not a drug trafficking case, de Lima’s camp said.
Last Thursday, prosecutors indicted de Lima and others before the Muntinlupa RTC. Those charged include de Lima’s ex-boyfriend Ronnie Dayan, Jose Adrian Dera (alleged nephew and close-in security of de Lima), former corrections chief Franklin Bucayu’s former staff Wilfredo Elly, former acting corrections head Rafael Ragos, Presidential Security Group member Joenel Sanchez (de Lima’s former security aide), and high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian.
The arrest warrant from Branch 204 covered de Lima, Dayan and Ragos. De Lima was jailed at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame. Dayan was sent to the Muntinlupa City Jail while Ragos was ordered detained at the National Bureau of Investigation.
PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa visited de Lima on Friday and assured her she would be safe in her detention cell. Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo also visited the senator on Friday.
“Suffice it to say that she is very safe inside. Whatever the treatment accorded to high-profile inmates inside, her fellow senators, we will give her the same treatment. Her fellow senators don’t have air-conditioning, cold water…equal treatment for all of them,” he said.
De la Rosa was referring to former senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada who are also detained in the same facility in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel scam.
President Rodrigo Duterte also said de Lima would be safe in jail. “I assure [her]that she is safe. I think people are interested not to see her dead but to see her in prison for what she did,” he told reporters.
The President was mum on de Lima’s case, saying “the court has taken jurisdiction.”
“It is already the property of the court by virtue of a warrant,” Duterte said.
FERNAN MARASIGAN AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE