Senators: SC ruling on Gigi can also free Leila
Opposition senators on Friday said the Supreme Court decision that freed plunder suspect Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, the longtime top aide of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, should be applied to former Sen. Leila de Lima’s case so she could walk out of detention, too.
“De Lima is a candidate beneficiary of the equal application of this latest (Supreme Court) ruling,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III told the Inquirer.
Pimentel, who topped the 1990 bar exams, said the high tribunal’s decision on Reyes’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a legal remedy usually sought by political activists who have been illegally arrested, centered on the state’s obligation to protect an individual’s right to a speedy trial.
“The latest decision of the Supreme Court … should equally apply to all Filipinos who have been suffering from prolonged detention due to the country’s slow justice system,” he said.
Right to speedy trial
Despite the circumstances of her detention, fellow opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros also believed that Reyes, who had spent nearly nine years behind bars after she was indicted for graft and plunder in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, had the right to a quick disposition of her cases.
The Supreme Court’s First Division said Reyes detention, though ordered by the Sandiganbayan, violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial and infringed on her right to liberty.
The tribunal said Reyes was able to prove that her detention had become a form of “vexatious restraint.”
“The right to a speedy trial is a right that should be enjoyed by all Filipinos, including Gigi Reyes,” Hontiveros said.
“My only hope is that this is applied equally and not by a double standard because if there’s a [case] of vexatious, capricious and oppressive detention, there’s nothing worse than that of Leila de Lima’s,” she said. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said it was “possible” for the detained senator to benefit from the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“The same reasoning may apply to Sen. De Lima’s case” Remulla said in a Viber message to reporters. He did not elaborate.But Remulla’s predecessor, Menardo Guevara, who is now the solicitor general, said the high court’s decision was not a “blanket precedent” and should be applied on a “case-to-case basis.”
Poor must benefit
One of the lawyers for De Lima, Boni Tacardon, told the Inquirer that they were “seriously studying” the ruling to determine “its impact and applicability” in her case.
“We are happy for Gigi Reyes for her victory. At the same time, we consider the fact that the cases of De Lima are practically at the tail end and we’re hoping that we can have a bail resolution by February or March,” he said.
Invoking the Supreme Court decision at this point may interfere with the bail petitions in the two remaining cases against De Lima, Tacardon said.
Pimentel said that while he agreed that the length of Reyes’ detention was “a ‘red flag,’” poor litigants should also benefit from the legal principles upheld by the Supreme Court in her case.
“There are thousands of Filipinos, mostly poor Filipinos who couldn’t afford a lawyer, who are detained for prolonged periods without any progress on their cases. As the Supreme Court puts it, the right to a speedy trial is a constitutional right of every Filipino,” he said.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said that Reyes’ nearly nine-year detention while awaiting the resolution of her criminal case was “far too long.”
“If petitioner were to wait for a final judgment before seeking effective relief, then it might be too late for her to genuinely enjoy her liberty. By then, justice delayed would truly be justice denied,” the court ruled.
De Lima has been in solitary confinement at Camp Crame since February 2017 after she was charged with involvement in the illegal drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison.
She and her supporters said these were trumped-up charges allegedly instigated by former President Rodrigo Duterte in retaliation for her investigation of his administration’s war on drugs, which, despite its brutality, he himself admitted had failed.
De Lima first caught Duterte’s ire when she, as head of the Commission on Human Rights, investigated vigilante killings of suspected criminals by the Davao Death Squad when Duterte was still mayor of Davao City.
Duterte’s allies in the Senate and the House of Representatives provided a platform for her accusers to further malign her during the congressional inquiries they conducted to connect her to illegal drugs.
However, several witnesses have retracted their testimonies against De Lima, claiming they were threatened by senior officials of the Duterte administration to link her to the narcotics trade.
On Wednesday, former “jueteng” whistleblower Sandra Cam also admitted that she was just used as an “instrument in obtaining evidence” to pin down Duterte’s fiercest critic.
—WITH REPORTS FROM ABBY BOISER AND JACOB LAZARO
Enrile’s ex-chief of staff Gigi Reyes temporarily released from jail
Do not further delay resolution of Leila de Lima’s case
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