Judge in Leila de Lima’s last drug case inhibits self | Inquirer News

Judge in Leila de Lima’s last drug case inhibits self

By: - Reporter / @dexcabalzaINQ
/ 05:36 AM June 17, 2023

NEW DELAY While the assignmentof a new judge may prolong her trial yet again, former Sen. Leila de Lima, seen in this May 12 photo, is “steadfast in her resolve that her vindication is near,” according to her lawyer Filibon Tacardon. —RICHARD A. REYES

NEW DELAY While the assignment of a new judge may prolong her trial yet again, former Sen. Leila de Lima, seen in this May 12 photo, is “steadfast in her resolve that her vindication is near,” according to her lawyer Filibon Tacardon. —RICHARD A. REYES

The seventh judge hearing the last drug trafficking case against former Sen. Leila de Lima has recused himself to put to rest any “suspicion” of bias arising from his brother’s earlier involvement in the case, a matter that came to light only recently.

De Lima’s lawyers welcomed the voluntary inhibition of Judge Romeo Buenaventura of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 256, even as they acknowledged that the appointment of a new judge might further delay her six-year bid for freedom.


In a seven-page order dated June 15 but released on Friday, Buenaventura granted the motions filed on Tuesday by three of De Lima’s co-accused—her former aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez, and former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu.


In their motions, the three asked the judge to inhibit himself from Criminal Case No. 17-167 because his brother Emmanuel Buenaventura, a lawyer, had taken actions in the past that were favorable to the prosecution, such as giving advice to one of their early accusers.

In his order, the judge confirmed that he was Emmanuel’s brother but insisted that their relationship did not prove he acted with malice, bad faith, and partiality.

‘Tarnished integrity’

But the “suspicion of the accused-movants, while unfounded if not contrived, cannot be ignored since it already tarnished the integrity and impartiality of the court as well as the needed trust and confidence in all subsequent proceedings in the instant case,” Buenaventura said.

He said he was recusing himself “not because the allegations are true, but because it is his avowed duty as member of the bench to promote confidence in the judicial system.”

In their motions, Dayan, Sanchez, and Bucayu noted that Emmanuel had served as legal adviser to the late Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, former chair of the House justice committee, who had led the 2016 inquiry on the illegal drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison (NBP) that resulted in the filing of charges against De Lima and her coaccused.

According to the motions, Emmanuel admitted in a television interview on Nov. 25, 2016, that he assisted Dayan in executing an affidavit implicating De Lima in the NBP drug trade. But in May last year, Dayan retracted his claims in the affidavit and testified that he had been coerced into signing it.


The three said Buenaventura’s failure to disclose his relationship with his brother put in question the judge’s impartiality.

But Buenaventura said in his order that he was “not privy to professional engagements of his brother and to the clients he represents, in the same way that the latter has no business whatsoever in the cases adjudicated by the Presiding Judge.”

He claimed he had been unaware of Dayan’s recantation of the affidavit, noting that it was executed in another court, Branch 204, whose judge acquitted De Lima in the second of her three drug cases last month.

Rare SC advisory

Last week, Buenaventura denied De Lima’s petition for bail upon finding the evidence against her and her coaccused to be “strong.”

A day later, the Supreme Court issued a rare advisory to note 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.”

In a statement, De Lima’s lawyers said Buenaventura’s decision was “the right thing to do,” but added that they were disappointed the judge “failed to come clean right from the start and disclose his relationship.”

The lawyers plan to appeal the denial of De Lima’s bail petition once a new judge takes over.

“Admittedly, the inhibition of Judge Buenaventura and the transfer of this case to another judge will cause a bit of a delay, but our client is steadfast in her resolve that her vindication is near,” De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon told reporters.

De Lima, a staunch critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war, has been detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City since 2017.

‘Felt some pressure’

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Buenaventura’s inhibition made no difference as to how the prosecution would handle the case.

“I’m sure he felt some pressure after the denial of the bail. That is something you can conclude from the circumstances,” he told reporters.

Criminal Case No. 17-167, the last drug charge against De Lima, has gone through seven judges over the last six years.

Buenaventura started handling the case in June 2020 when he was appointed to Branch 256, taking over from Judge Grace Chavez-Ty, who served as interim presiding judge in January of that year.

Ty’s designation came on the heels of De Lima’s request for a new judge after the replacement judge assigned to her case, Judge Antonietta Medina, inhibited herself, as she was a classmate and “kumare” of De Lima.

Medina replaced Judge Gener Gito, who was relieved in November 2019. The case was originally raffled to Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon, who opted for early retirement in February 2018.

Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo then handled the case but also inhibited herself a month later. In May 2019, Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz of Branch 256 also opted to retire early.



De Lima wants judge who acquitted her to inhibit

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The continuing saga of Leila de Lima

TAGS: De Lima, drug case, Drugs, inhibit

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