The Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and other groups urged Supreme Court (SC) Justice Francis Jardeleza to inhibit himself from the case involving Senator Leila de Lima with whom he worked with in the past.
De Lima has asked the High Court to nullify her arrest and stop the prosecution of the drug complaints filed against her.
The VACC said Jardeleza should recuse himself because he was a co-associate of De Lima at the Jardeleza, Sobreviñas, Diaz, Hayudini and Bodegon Law Firm in 1987 and Roco, Buñag, Kapunan, Migallos and Jardeleza Law Firm from 1991 to 1993.
Jardeleza was the solicitor general when De Lima was justice secretary.
De Lima is facing three cases in three courtS in Muntinlupa City for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison when she was the Justice secretary. She surrendered on February 24 after Judge Juanita Guerrero ordered her arrest.
The United Filipino Seafarers and Republic Defenders echoed the VACC call.
Ferdinand Topacio, the groups’ legal counsel, said they do not believe that Jerdeleza will be biased, but his inhibition would remove any doubt on the decision to be made by the SC.
The high tribunal on Tuesday heard oral arguments on De Lima’s motion to dismiss the criminal complaints filed against her.
Some magistrates saw some loopholes in De Lima’s petition, noting that the senator did not exhaust the remedies available before filing a motion at the SC.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, legal counsel of De Lima, was grilled by the justices on the “premature” petition filed by the senator.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. questioned the elevation of the case to the SC despite the pendency of the cases in the lower court.
“There is still a pending incident and you are bypassing the RTC already by your petition here. Your relief actually is to order the RTC to not do anything with the case yet until the motion to quash is resolved. You are banking on the resolution of the RTC Muntinlupa to resolve first the motion to quash. This is too premature in my reading because that is exactly what you’re asking us to do,” Velasco told Hilbay.
He said that once the SC grants De Lima’s petition, it shall nullify the findings of probable cause by the Muntinlupa RTC.
“You manifested that all you are asking from us is to nullify the order finding probable cause for issuance of warrant and order the RTC to resolve the motion to quash. If we decide now that your petition has no merit and the RTC has no jurisdiction then we have practically decided the motion to quash for the RTC,” the magistrate pointed out.
Hilbay admitted that De Lima immediately elevated the case to the SC to secure her release from prison.
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta warned that De Lima could be guilty of “forum shopping.”
Peralta said that De Lima should have exhausted all legal remedies before running to the high court.
“You filed the same petitions before two different courts,” he said, referring to De Lima’s motion to quash before the Muntinlupa court and the petition for certiorari filed at the SC.
Peralta said that De Lima failed to avail of the many remedies allowed by law.
He said that De Lima committed an error when she did not file a counter affidavit when the DOJ issued a resolution finding probable cause to file a case in court.
“You missed out on a lot of errors or remedies for Sen. De Lima. During the preliminary investigation, she did not file a counter affidavit. After that when there was a resolution, she should have filed a motion for reinvestigation before the information is filed before the court and ask the court to suspend the proceedings and require the panel of prosecutors to hold,” Peralta said.
“Assuming that there was already information filed and she was not given the chance to file her counterveiling evidence with the DOJ, she should have filed a motion for leave of court to file a motion for reinvestigation so the judge could have ordered a reinvestigation. She did not, there were a lot of remedies,” the magistrate stressed.
Hilbay maintained that De Lima did not commit any crime.
He pointed out that the case against De Lima should have been direct bribery, a bailable offense, punishable under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and not RA 9165 or Dangerous Drugs Law.
The SC will hear the arguments of government lawyers next week.
WITH A REPORT FROM KENNETH HERNANDEZ