De Lima bail denial not final judgment, says SC
A day after a local court denied the bail petition of detained former Sen. Leila de Lima, the Supreme Court stressed that the ruling should not be considered a final judgment.
Finding the prosecution evidence to be strong, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Wednesday rejected De Lima’s plea for temporary liberty in connection with the last of the three drug cases filed against her during the term of then President Rodrigo Duterte, whose brutal antidrug campaign she had doggedly criticized.
The ruling drew strong condemnation from De Lima’s supporters, one of them an opposition senator who called it a “travesty of justice.”
In an advisory on Thursday, the Supreme Court reiterated that “[A]s per the Order of the trial court, the denial of bail of De Lima is not the final adjudication of the case.”
“To repeat, the purpose of the hearing is merely to determine the weight of the evidence for purposes of bail. Thus, all that the present resolution has determined is that based on the evidence thus far adduced by the prosecution, the Court is convinced that there is great probability that the crime charged has been committed and that the accused are the agents thereof,” the tribunal said, adding:
“The former senator can also move for her release on bail at any time during the course of trial if she deems that the prosecution evidence being presented is weak.”
De Lima’s lead defense counsel, Boni Tacardon, said he was pleasantly surprised by the high court’s attention to the point that it had to clarify the RTC ruling on the bail petition.
“Personally I was surprised and, when I saw Senator Leila de Lima, she was also surprised because it’s not everyday that the public information office of the Supreme Court will come up with a media advisory over a case that is not pending with the Supreme Court,” Tacardon told reporters.
Judge Romeo Buenaventura of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 denied De Lima’s bail petition in Criminal Case No. 167, in which she is accused of conspiring with former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu to engage in the illegal drug trade to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.
De Lima may file a second petition for bail since there were precedent Supreme Court decisions allowing it, Tacardon said, but for now they are preparing a motion for reconsideration on Wednesday’s ruling.
He said the defense team would also focus on the two remaining hearings—on June 19 and June 26—for the prosecution to present its last three witnesses. He said the defense also planned to file a demurrer to evidence afterwards.
The militant group Bayan and the human rights watchdog Karapatan questioned how Judge Buenaventura still found the evidence against De Lima to be strong, given the outcome of the first two cases in which key prosecution witnesses had recanted their allegations against the ex-senator.
“We cannot fathom how the court [came to this evaluation] considering these are trumped up charges using fabricated witnesses and evidence,” said Reyes, referring to the two other drug cases—one eventually dismissed in 2021 and the other resulting in an acquittal last month.
“It is unacceptable and enraging that De Lima has been detained (since 2017) for such baseless and politically motivated charges for six years, and her recent attempt to be released by questioning the weakness of the evidence in these charges through her bail petition is frustrated,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
“Like the two previously dismissed drug charges against her, this case is an act of vengeance by former President Duterte that does not even deserve to be heard in any court,” added Reyes.
An opposition congressman, meanwhile, argued that bail should have been granted in De Lima’s last case if similar standards applied to the plunder case of Juan Ponce Enrile, a former senator and now presidential legal counsel of President Marcos, were to be followed.
For Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, De Lima’s party mate in the Liberal Party, the first two drug cases should have been sufficient basis for releasing her at this point.
“The web of contrived evidence against De Lima in the three drug cases are interrelated,” Lagman said. “The totality of the prosecution’s evidence is patently feeble.”
“In granting bail to former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile in the plunder case against him … the standards used by the Supreme Court were Enrile’s presumption of innocence; voluntary surrender; not being a flight risk; and fragile health,” Lagman said. “[De Lima] enjoys the presumption of innocence, she peacefully surrendered, is definitely not a flight risk, and her failing health condition should not approximate impending death for her to be granted temporary liberty.”
End the cycle
De Lima’s six-year detention was in itself “oppressive and violates her Constitutional right to a speedy trial,” Lagman added. “The right to bail is rendered illusory if the grant is strictly withheld.”
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for an end to what she described as a “travesty of justice.”
“I am deeply frustrated over the prolonged detention of former Sen. Leila de Lima. She deserves a speedy trial as enshrined in our Constitution,” she said. “I call for an immediate and decisive end to this cycle of oppression. Stop this travesty of justice now!”
“To my fellow Filipinos and to all human rights advocates, let us ensure that justice is not just reserved for the powerful and privileged and that in this country, justice is not just a fairy tale,” she said.