She’s in a bind, but she’s not taking things sitting down, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, amid a contempt suit filed against her by one of the principal suspects in the January 2011 murder of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega.
Through his lawyer Demetrio Custodio Jr., Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes last week asked the Court of Appeals to cite De Lima in contempt for having impugned the court’s reputation “by insinuating that it could be influenced to decide a case in one way or another by a party’s ‘foul tactics and illicit means.’”
“(But) I cannot just take it sitting down, a decision like that (when) I know something happened,” De Lima said of the decision of a Court of Appeals special division last March 19 to nullify the murder charges against the Palawan governor and his brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr.
Saying she refused to be cowed into silence, De Lima said she has information from a credible source that “something happened,” which led to the appeals’ court decision, but admitted that she cannot back up her claim with solid proof since her source will not support her publicly.
“I wish I can reveal it, but I know something about what happened in that case. But my problem is, I cannot reveal it without solid proof,” the justice secretary told Department of Justice (DOJ) reporters on Monday.
“I have information from an A-1 source but I don’t think my source is willing to back me up or confirm it. Kaya tatahimik na lang ako (That’s why I’ll just keep quiet). I am asking the (Office of Solicitor General) to defend me,” she added.
The appeals court special tenth division invalidated the second DOJ panel De Lima had created to re-investigate the involvement of the Reyes brothers in the Ortega murder.
In a 3-2 vote, the Court of Appeals said the justice secretary had committed a grave abuse of discretion when she created the second panel of investigators without acting on the petition for review filed by Ortega’s daughter Michaella on the decision of the first DOJ panel.
The appeals court in effect reinstated the decision of the first panel dismissing the murder charges against the Reyes brothers.
Asked about the contempt suit, De Lima said her remarks about the appeals’ court decision were within her “right to express (her) thoughts.”
Quest for justice
She continued: “They can sue me all they want but I cannot buckle down in the quest for justice in that particular case. I cannot be cowed in the exercise of my right to free expression. I was expressing my frustration about the development of the case, (in) particular about that resolution.”
De Lima shared her consternation over the contempt suit during her meeting with “running priest” Fr. Robert Reyes, who has been helping the Ortega family.
In an interview with the Inquirer after their meeting at the DOJ, Reyes defended De Lima by questioning the integrity of the five-member Court of Appeals division that cleared the Reyes brothers.
“(De Lima) should not be cowed by threats of legal suits by the Reyes camp. This is all they can do because Secretary De Lima cannot be bribed,” Reyes said.