Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is pushing for the release from jail of detained Sen. Leila de Lima over drug-related charges, Supreme Court sources told The Manila Times.
The sources claimed Sereno had been convincing justices to clear de Lima, supposedly in exchange for help in case an impeachment complaint against the chief justice is elevated to the Senate.
The 15-man Supreme Court is divided on whether or not there is probable cause to charge de Lima for drug-related cases, and whether or not the Muntinlupa regional trial court (RTC), not the Sandiganbayan, has jurisdiction over the cases, the sources said.
One of the sources said a 40-page draft ponencia or ruling by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. had been circulated among the magistrates.
Velasco recommended that de Lima’s petition to junk her cases be dismissed for lack of merit, upholding the Department of Justice’s authority to file the drug-related charges against her before the Muntinlupa City RTC.
Separate draft opinions have also been circulated among the Supreme Court justices, written by Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Marvic Leonen, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Francis Jardeleza and Diosdado Peralta.
As of press time, de Lima has six votes in her favor, the sources claimed. The figure could reach seven to eight votes depending on Sereno’s lobbying, the sources said.
Sereno has talked to at least two magistrates to get their votes in favor of de Lima, the sources also said.
De Lima, in detention at the Camp Crame Custodial Center in Quezon City, cannot participate and vote in the deliberations of the Senate.
Two impeachment complaints against Sereno are awaiting the endorsement of at least one member of the House of Representatives.
Sereno is accused of betraying public trust for various alleged offenses, such as misdeclaration in her statement of assets and liabilities and her purchase of an expensive, bulletproof sport utility vehicle using taxpayers’ money.
The outcome of the voting could depend on whether voting would be held today, August 8, the last en banc or full court session to be attended by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, who retires on August 13, his 70th birthday.
A postponement of the voting means only 14 justices can participate, unless President Rodrigo Duterte immediately names Mendoza’s replacement.
With just 14 justices participating, a tie (7-7) means de Lima’s petition to junk her drug-related charges will be dismissed.
“It will be definitely a close voting. It depends on Sereno’s maneuver. She doesn’t want Justice Bambit (Mendoza) to vote, to make the voting tight,” another court source told The Times.
The source said Mendoza had informed the court en banc he was willing to participate and vote on the de Lima case before his retirement.
As of press time, the case of de Lima vs Judge Juanita Guerrero under GR Nos. 177857-58 and 178193 has yet to be included in today’s main or supplemental agenda.
De Lima sought the nullification of her February 23 arrest warrant on drug-trading charges and is questioning the jurisdiction of Judge Guerrero and the Muntinlupa RTC.
She claims the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the arrest order, given her pending motion to quash and questions over its jurisdiction over her case.
De Lima 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 the previous administration 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.
The senator said there was no iota of proof linking her to the illegal drug trade, and argues that the accusations against her involve only “direct bribery” under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code.