SEN. Leila de Lima will stay in detention as the majority of Supreme Court (SC) justices voted to deny her petition to dismiss drug-related charges and nullify the arrest order issued against her by a Muntinlupa court.
Nine justices led by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the ponente or author of the decision, voted to dismiss de Lima’s petition for lack of merit, while six dissented.
Four appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte voted against de Lima: Associate Justices Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
They were joined by Associate Justices Velasco, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta and Mariano del Castillo.
The six justices who voted in favor of de Lima were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Marvic Leonen, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Francis Jardeleza.
There were five concurring opinions and six dissenting opinions on the case.
De Lima is at the Camp Crame Custodial Center for her non-bailable case stemming from her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary in the Aquino administration.
The court ruled that it was the lower court, not the Sandiganbayan, that had jurisdiction over drug cases.
As such, de Lima, who wanted to be tried by the anti-graft court instead of the Muntinlupa regional trial court (RTC), violated the rules on forum-shopping and hierarchy of courts.
The majority of the tribunal did not agree with de Lima’s argument that she should have been charged with mere “direct bribery,” saying the allegations filed before prosecutors were sufficient to characterize the offense as a violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act or Republic Act (RA) 9165.
Under RA 9165, only one court has jurisdiction to try offenses under the law – the RTC.
It also said the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC over violations of RA 9165 was not transferred to the Sandiganbayan even if the accused occupied a position classified as Grade 27 or higher, and regardless of whether or not the violation was committed in relation to the office being occupied.
The Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is limited to violations of anti-graft laws and do not extend to violations of the anti-drugs law, the court said.
Not properly executed
The majority also found that the de Lima’s petition was not properly executed under oath and that the jurat (certification) was defective, as she did not subscribe to it in the presence of the notary public.
De Lima had sought to nullify her arrest warrant on drug charges and questioned the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa RTC.
The senator had asked the court to annul the February 23 order issued by Muntinlupa RTC Executive Judge Juanita Guerrero, for the issuance of an arrest warrant against her.
She claimed the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the arrest order despite the fact that she had a pending motion to quash, and despite having no jurisdiction over her case.
Let trial begin – Aguirre
The Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice lauded the ruling.
In a statement, Solicitor General Jose Calida stressed that “no one is above the law.”
“Let me express my deepest gratitude to the learned Supreme Court Justices who penned the decision that will be entrenched in our jurisprudence,” Calida said.
“This decision further negates the erroneous perception that the government’s war against drugs is waged only against the unlettered and the underprivileged.”
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said prosecutors would move to arraign de Lima in court and begin the trial.
“Because of this decision of the Supreme Court, our prosecutors will now move for the arraignment of de Lima to proceed in the RTC. And assuming that there would be no motion for amendment of the information, then the trial will proceed,” he said.
Fight not over
Members of the Senate minority were confident the fight to free de Lima was not yet over.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said while he disagreed with the decision of high tribunal, he would respect it.
“I assume Senator de Lima will file a motion for reconsideration and I hope the SC can take a close second look at the decision,” Drilon said.
He said the decision of the court could still be reversed if the camp of de Lima could convince two of the nine justices who voted to dismiss her petition to change their minds.
The decision, Drilon said, would also not stop the minority bloc from asking the court to allow de Lima to attend to her legislative duties.
“We will not give up. We will keep on requesting. We are not asking for Senator de Lima to be released, what we are just asking is to allow her to perform her duties as a senator.”
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said the Senate leadership would respect the decision.
“They’ve studied the case thoroughly than us here. Anyway, she still has a second review, by the court itself hearing her case,” he said in a text message.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros lamented the latest development on her colleague’s case but assured de Lima she would continue to fight for her freedom.
She reiterated that de Lima’s detention was based on fake and baseless charges, and appealed to the public “who treasure democracy and human rights” to continue supporting the jailed lawmaker.
Malacañang distanced itself from the Supreme Court decision.
“That is within the Supreme Court’s purview, we leave it to them to address that,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a new conference.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE