Justice Caguioa assails SC ruling on De Lima
Why did the majority of Supreme Court justices treat detained Sen. Leila de Lima differently from two plunder suspects—former President and currently Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.?
Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa posed this question as he criticized nine of his colleagues on the Supreme Court who voted to ditch De Lima’s petition seeking her release from detention and the junking of the drug trafficking charges brought against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Caguioa, who succeeded De Lima as justice secretary in 2015, wrote a strongly worded dissent to the majority decision written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Voting 9-6, the 15-member tribunal held that De Lima’s petition for certiorari lacked merit and that Presiding Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ordering the senator’s arrest.
Danger to ordinary citizens
Caguioa warned that the ruling would only result in injustice and unwarranted detention of ordinary citizens over frivolous and unsubstantiated drug charges.
He pointed out that De Lima, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, was deprived of her right to due process when she was ordered arrested by Guerrero on Feb. 24 over a “fatally defective” complaint.
“The essence of due process is, after all, the right to be heard before one is deprived of [one’s] right to liberty. And [De Lima], being an accused, is no exception even if she is an avowed critic of the incumbent President,” Caguioa said.
“The real concern is this: If this can be done to a sitting senator of the Republic of the Philippines, then this can be done to any citizen,” he added.
Caguioa explained why the complaint filed by DOJ prosecutors was flawed and should have been dismissed outright for its failure to comply with the requirements set by Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, in prosecuting drug cases.
As pointed out by De Lima’s lead lawyer, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, Caguioa said, the complaint did not identify what kind of illegal drugs the senator supposedly traded and who were the buyers and sellers.
“It is highly lamentable that the majority of the members of the court have put their imprimatur to this insidious manner of phrasing an information concerning illegal drug offenses to detain an unsuspecting individual,” Caguioa said.
“The Constitution affords the individual basic universal rights that must be safeguarded, protected and upheld before [they are] detained to face trial for a crime or offense leveled against [them] in an information or complaint,” he added.
He assailed how the majority emphasized the questions of technicalities in De Lima’s petition, which were raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida during the oral arguments, instead of resolving constitutional issues raised by the senator.
Citing the high court’s previous rulings, Caguioa maintained that the rules on the hierarchy of courts, forum shopping and verification were set by the court to “facilitate rather than frustrate the ends of justice.”
Actually, he said, the court had previously recognized the extent of a certiorari petition when it granted Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence despite the rule “denying a demurrer shall not be reviewable by appeal or certiorari before judgment.”
“Why could not [De Lima], in this case, be allowed to avail [herself] of the comprehensive and useful certiorari action even if she did not comply strictly with the procedural rules? Why is she being treated differently?” he asked.
Caguioa also noted that Velasco himself pointed out in voting to grant Revilla’s bail petition, which the tribunal had denied, to respect the “right of every person from the inconvenience, expense, ignominy and stress of defending [themselves] in the course of a formal trial.”
“Why is [Velasco] not according petitioner here the same treatment?” he asked.
“Instead of seizing this golden opportunity, and bravely asserting its role as guardian, the court, speaking through the majority, has chosen to, once again, retreat and find refuge in technical and procedural niceties, totally brushing aside the paramount constitutional significance of this case,” he said.
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