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Delfin Lee stays in jail as SC halts CA order

Housing developer Delfin Lee, charged with syndicated estafa for allegedly tapping close to P7 billion from the Pag-Ibig Fund using bogus buyers, is locked behind bars at the Pampanga provincial jail. TONETTE T. OREJAS/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

MANILA, Philippines—Globe Asiatique president Delfin Lee will remain in jail after the Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped the Court of Appeals from implementing an order annulling last November the arrest warrant issued against the housing developer.

The high court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) came a few hours after Lee appeared at the appellate court’s special first division’s hearing on the petition for habeas corpus filed by his camp for his immediate release.

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Lee was at the court division early Wednesday after being transported under heavy guard from the Pampanga provincial jail.

Shortly after the two-hour hearing concluded, news spread that the high court had issued a TRO on the appellate court ruling of Nov. 7, 2013.

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At a news conference later, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te confirmed reports that the tribunal’s third division under Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco had issued a TRO on two rulings by the Court of Appeals’ 15th special division.

“The TRO is effective immediately and continuing until further orders and is directed against the implementation of the CA Nov. 7, 2013 decision … which annulled and set aside the orders dated May 20, 2012 and Aug. 22, 2012 issued by Judge [Amifaith Fider-] Reyes, and quashed, recalled and lifted the warrant of arrest that the latter judge issued against petitioner Delfin Lee pursuant to such resolution,” Te said.

Lee was charged with syndicated estafa for allegedly channeling to his Xevera housing projects in Mabalacat City and Bacolor town in Pampanga about P7 billion from the Pag-Ibig Fund. The loans were taken out mostly by bogus borrowers, who were paid to sign spurious documents.

Lee went into hiding before he was charged and until his arrest last week at a hotel in Manila, he had disappeared for almost two years.

The high court’s action was in response to the petition for certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by the Department of Justice through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) questioning the appellate court ruling clearing Lee of the syndicated estafa case and annulling the warrant for his arrest.

Asked about news of a TRO on the appellate court’s ruling, Assistant Solicitor General Hermes Ocampo said if the report was true, then it was “very good.”

Ocampo said he believed the TRO issued by the high court would moot the appellate court’s proceedings on Wednesday.

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Lee’s lawyer, Willie Rivera, did not want to comment on the report that a TRO had been issued to the detriment of his client, saying he was not aware of the order.

Erroneous premise

Asked whether the TRO would moot the appellate court’s proceedings on his client’s habeas corpus petition, Rivera said that was an “erroneous premise.” He said both the Court of Appeals and the high court had “concurrent jurisdiction” over the petition.

Lee’s syndicated estafa case was dismissed in November last year, after the appellate court’s special 15th division annulled and set aside a Pampanga Regional Trial Court’s finding of probable cause to charge Lee with syndicated estafa on the ground that it was issued with grave abuse of discretion.

The court division also ordered the lifting of the arrest warrant issued by the lower court against Lee.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Because the case was pending in the high court, a division in the appellate court last month merely noted Lee’s motion for the court to clarify its judgment on his syndicated estafa case. Lee wanted the court to say that he was cleared of syndicated estafa, rendering his arrest warrant void.

But the division said it could only note the motion out of “judicial courtesy” to the high court.

At the appellate court hearing, Lee’s lawyer Ronnie Garay insisted that his client’s continued confinement was “patently illegal” and sought his immediate release from the Pampanga provincial jail.

Garay did not accept the OSG argument that the Court of Appeals was not the proper court for the habeas corpus petition but the high court. The lawyer described as “antiquated and Jurassic” the principle of judicial courtesy that the OSG was pushing.

For his part, Assistant Solicitor General Ocampo said Lee’s arrest warrant was “valid” and noted that the police officers who arrested Lee on March 6 had used a “second alias” warrant of arrest that was issued by the Pampanga court last Aug. 7.

Ocampo said Lee’s camp should have filed a supplemental petition assailing the “second alias” warrant of arrest in its petition.

“We submit if this honorable court acts on this petition, it might be placed in a strange position of possibly reversing the resolution or decision of its very own 15th division. So we respectfully submit that prudence dictates that these proceedings be filed in the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over such petition for habeas corpus,” Ocampo said.

Back in Pampanga jail

Lee was back at the Pampanga provincial jail in the City of San Fenando on Wednesday afternoon, hours after he was presented by his lawyers in the Court of Appeals in Manila for a hearing on his petition for habeas corpus.

Taken out of prison at 6:30 a.m. and secured by 30 policemen and jail personnel, Lee was returned to the Pampanga jail at 2:50 p.m.

He was brought in through the back gate of the prison compound. The use of the back gate sent reporters scampering as they tried to get a view of Lee.

During the trip, Lee did not complain of conditions related to his hypertension or diabetes, said Edwin Mangaliman, provincial jail warden, who accompanied the Chinese-Filipino businessman to and from the appellate court.

Lee did not issue any statement on the proceedings at the Court of Appeals or the TRO issued by the Supreme Court on the appellate court’s resolution dropping him and his co-accused Christina Sagun and Alex Alvarez from the syndicated estafa case.

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TAGS: Court of Appeals, Delfin Lee, housing scam, Supreme Court, syndicated estafa, TRO
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