Solgen goes to CA to question De Lima acquittal
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has challenged before the Court of Appeals (CA) the acquittal of former Sen. Leila de Lima in the second of her three illegal drug cases in May, accusing the Muntinlupa judge who handed down the decision of grave abuse of discretion.
The lawyers of De Lima, on the other hand, filed on Tuesday an administrative complaint against another Muntinlupa judge over what they described as his “belated inhibition” from the proceedings as the brother of a lawyer previously involved in her last case.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra confirmed on Monday that his office filed a petition for certiorari against the decision of Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara of Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 to clear De Lima in the second case.
“Yes, the OSG filed a petition for certiorari, not an appeal, with the CA on Sept. 4, on the ground of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess jurisdiction on the part of the trial court judge,” he said.
“This action was arrived at after extensive consultation with the DOJ (Department of Justice) panel of prosecutors and careful examination of the case records,” Guevarra added.
Detained at the national police headquarters since February 2017, De Lima was accused of taking bribes from drug lords at New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City when she served as justice secretary. Her camp insists the charges were fabricated in retaliation for her criticisms against former President Rodrigo Duterte.
On May 12, Alcantara acquitted De Lima and coaccused Ronnie Dayan of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading on the strength of the retraction of former Bureau of Corrections head Rafael Ragos, who initially claimed he delivered drug money to De Lima supposedly to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.
Ragos later testified in court that he had been coerced to make the false accusations.
In July, Alcantara affirmed his decision by denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the prosecution.
De Lima, whose first drug case was dismissed in February 2021, still faces a third drug case, which was recently raffled off to Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 Judge Gener Gito.
The case was previously handled by Judge Romeo Buenaventura, who inhibited himself after De Lima’s co-accused complained upon finding out that the judge’s brother, Emmanuel, had been involved in the case, as the lawyer who helped prepare the affidavit for De Lima’s former aide and coaccused Dayan, who later retracted his claims in the document.
Buenaventura had handled De Lima’s case for three years, from June 2020 to June 15 this year.
In a June 7 decision, the judge denied the former senator’s bail plea, citing strong evidence against her. That decision is now under appeal with Gito, the new judge handling the case.
On Tuesday, De Lima’s lawyers filed a complaint with the Judicial Integrity Board seeking disciplinary action against Buenaventura for not immediately disclosing his relationship and for inhibiting himself only when such information was made public.
The complainants were Teddy Esteban Rigoroso, Rolly Francis Peoro, and Dino de Leon, all lawyers of De Lima. They were represented by counsels Tony La Viña and Maria Cristina Yambot of the anti-fake news watchdog Movement Against Disinformation.
Yambot said any judge should disclose his or her relationship with a party-litigant or lawyer.
“This was discovered only after all the witnesses for the prosecution have been presented for the purposes of bail hearing,” she told reporters.
‘Sense of impropriety’
Although Buenaventura inhibited himself, it resulted in a delay in the proceedings, she said, adding that it “compromised the trial’s impartiality and the broader principle of judicial integrity.”
“Such a delayed inhibition tainted the proceedings… because of this, there was a sense of impropriety, and the processes appeared to be unfair,” Yambot said.
“If only her case was handled by a judge who is fair, we’re confident that, just like all the trumped-up charges against her, this would have been dismissed a long time ago,” she added. INQ