By ALFRED GABOT
PASAY CITY (PhilAmPress) — Charged with criminal cases involving illegal drugs and ordered arrested by the Muntinlupa City Trial Court over the charges, a defiant Sen. Leila de Lima surrendered to police after she holed up overnight at her Senate office early morning of Feb. 24.
On the same day, De Lima was detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame near where former Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada who she had charged in connection with the pork barrel scam have been detained.
The following day, De Lima, through lawyer Alex Padilla, asked the Supreme Court to quash the charges and the arrest warrant issued against her and sought for a temporary restraining order (TRO) but the High Court, in an en banc session, did not grant her petition for TRO.
But the High Tribunal asked the Philippine National Police and the Muntinlupa Trial Court to comment on de Lima’s petition.
The arrest of Senator De Lima raised speculation that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, another critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, could be next to be charged and detained but the President said he sees the senator “too insignificant” to bother himself with.
“He is too insignificant to bother yourself. Hindi na ko papatol doon,” Duterte told reporters in Malacañang.
The statement was made after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II asked a pro-Duterte rally attended by more than 200,000 supporters at the Rizal Park to help him pin down Trillanes, a vitriolic critic of the President who he said had amassed P2.2 billion in his bank accounts and linked to the so-called Davao death squad all of which were denied by Duterte.
Aguirre asked the Duterte supporters at the rally who they want to go after next. They replied, “Trillanes.”
President Duterte assured the safety of Sen. de Lima in Camp Crame where her lawyers said she was okay and in high spirit. Aside from her lawyers, Sens. Francis Pangilinan and Trillanes and other supporters and relatives have visited De Lima at the detention cell.
“I assure that she is safe. I think people are interested not to see her dead but to see her in prison for what she did,” the President said during an ambush interview in Malacañang.
De Lima’s co-accused, Ronnie Dayan, the senator’s former driver and admitted lover, was also arrested in his hometown Urbiztondo in Pangasinan and detained at the Muntinlupa City jail after being processed by police and the court.
A second co-accused, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge and former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation Rafael Ragos surrendered to NBI before noon on Sunday and was temporarily detained at the NBI.
Dayan and Ragos were included in the arrest warrant issued for Sen. De Lima by Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 Executive Judge Juanita Guerrero.
Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 is handling Criminal Case No. 17-165 which specifically charged De Lima, Dayan and Ragos for violation of Section 5 (sale) in relation to Section 3 (jj trading), Section 26 (b) and Section 28 or the criminal liability of government officials and employees under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The Department of Justice had alleged that De Lima received around P10 million in drug payoffs from November 2012 to early 2013 through her co-accused, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos.
Ragos said he delivered, along with aide Jovencio Ablen Jr., the money to De Lima’s house in Parañaque City.
The money was allegedly received by De Lima’s former driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, also a co-accused in the non-bailable case for violations of Section 5 and Section 28 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
SC spokesman Theodore Te said the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.
The SC deferred ruling on De Lima’s pleas for issuance of TRO stopping the proceedings in the drug cases against her and status quo ante order on the arrest warrant issued last week by Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 204 that would allow her release from detention.
Te said respondents Muntinlupa City RTC Judge Juanita Guerrero and the Philippine National Police (PNP), are given a non-extendible period of 10 days or until March 10 to answer the petition while the oral arguments are set on March 14 (Tuesday) at 2 p.m.
In an 81-page petition for certiorari with prayers for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and or a temporary restraining order, De Lima through her lawyers asked the high court to set aside the arrest warrant issued last week by Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Guerrero and to stop her from conducting further proceedings.
De Lima also asked the SC to issue a status quo ante order aimed at restoring the status prior to the issuance of the arrest warrant.
De Lima was detained at the PNP Custodial Center after she was brought to the Muntinlupa court for processing.
The lady senator appeared before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 for the return of the arrest warrant.
“The Court finds sufficient probable cause for Violation of Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002, Sec. 5 in rel. to Sec. 3, Sec.26 & Sec. 28 of R.A. No. 9165 (Illegal Drug Trading). Wherefore, accused Leila M. De Lima is ordered committed to the Custodial Service Unit in Camp Crame, Quezon City,” the order read.
Dayan was placed in the custody of the Muntinlupa City Jail.
Dayan is held alone in his detention cell, as he is a high profile detainee. He has his own bed, police said.
Separate cases for three counts of drug trafficking against were filed against De Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC which were assigned to three different courts.
The cases for sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were assigned to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.
The first case in Branch 204 include De Lima, Dayan and Ragos.
De Lima is joined by her nephew Jose Adrian Dera in the second case in Branch 205.
Lastly, the third case in Branch 206 is against De Lima, Dera, Dayan, former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, his alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian and De Lima’s former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez,.
In asking the SC to nullify the arrest warrant, De Lima said Guerrero “acted with undue haste and inordinate interest” since she has yet to resolve nor even hear the motion to quash filed by her lawyer after the DOJ filed the case against her.
“Haste, when unduly applied in the context of the criminal justice system, such that it constitutes a blatant failure to respect and uphold a person’s fundamental rights, and to observe the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution to protect the rights of the accused, it results in something far more destructive, more pestilent and graver than mere imperfection,” the petition said.
“Definitely, aggrieved with the acts and omissions of Judge Guerrero, which grossly violated her substantive and procedural rights, that amounted to grave abuse of discretion on the part of respondent judge, petitioner files this petition for certiorari and prohibition under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure,” it added.
De Lima, however, stressed only the Office of the Ombudsman has the jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation of the case and not the DOJ panel of prosecutors and that only the Sandiganbayan — not the RTC — has the same jurisdiction over the offense she was accused to have allegedly committed when she was still the DOJ chief during the previous administration.
The lady senator said Guerrero’s issuance of the arrest warrant and commitment order did not follow the constitutional requirements and procedural rules.
De Lima said even a casual reading of the one paragraph arrest order will reveal that the judge did not rely on the required documents to make a personal determination of probable cause adding that the documents should have been the report of the DOJ panel and the evidence submitted by the said panel to the court and not the information and the evidence presented at the DOJ during the preliminary investigation.
Her motion to quash and motion of judicial determination of probable cause were filed arguing that it is the Ombudsman and eventually Sandiganbayan and not the court that has jurisdiction over her case.
The government’s top counse, however, said that Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing a warrant of arrest against Senator Leila De Lima in connection the drug charges filed against her.
“The judge shall issue a warrant of arrest if she finds probable cause after personally evaluating the resolution of the prosecutor and its supporting evidence. This is clearly set forth in Rule 112, Section 6 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. Nowhere in the rules does it require the judge to personally examine witnesses in the form of searching questions and answers for the purpose of issuing the warrant of arrest,” Solicitor General Jose C. Calida explained.
“There is no truth to the allegation that the warrant of arrest was issued prematurely,” he added.
The trial judge, on her part, said that she personally studied the records of the case to determine whether there was probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest.
According to Calida, a preliminary investigation is an inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient ground to create a logical belief that a crime has been committed, and that the accused is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial.
“This determination of probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest should precede the resolution of Senator De Lima’s motion to quash the information. A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not a crime was committed by the accused. It need not be based on evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Calida explained.
“In Senator De Lima’s case, she did not show up at her preliminary investigation. Although her presence is not mandatory, she did not adduce any evidence on her behalf. Not even a counter-affidavit to refute the allegations against her was filed. She just sent her lawyer to question the jurisdiction of the prosecution panel,” he said.
“As a former Secretary of Justice and now senator, she should follow the law and the rules of court. No one is above the law, not even Senator De Lima,” he added.
Calida further explained that the issuance of a warrant is necessary to acquire jurisdiction over the person of Senator De Lima.
“It should be noted that a motion to quash seeks for an affirmative relief. How can she seek an affirmative relief from the court when the court has no jurisdiction over her person?” he asked.
“In this case, the judge did not act arbitrarily when she issued the warrant of arrest against Senator De Lima,” Calida opined.
Calida earlier said that De Lima should be tried before the RTC and not in the Sandiganbayan, citing Section 90 of R.A. No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which provides that RTCs have exclusive jurisdiction to try and hear cases involving illegal drug activities.