Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Saturday insisted that the charges filed against Senator Leila de Lima are all "criminal in nature."
"It is wrong for Senator de Lima to refer to herself as a political prisoner. Drug cases do not involve one's political beliefs. It involves one's choice to be involved in illegal drugs," Aguirre said in a statement.
De Lima had said that the filing of drug cases against her before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court was “plain and simple persecution.”
Aguirre noted that the regional trial court has the "original and exclusive" jurisdiction over the three cases filed against De Lima, regardless of her position in the government.
"Trading in illegal drugs has no connection with the performance of her duties as Secretary of Justice. We could recall that Senator De Lima herself and other Secretaries of Justice before her, prosecuted before the RTC several high ranking officials like PGMA (former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), Comm. [Alfredo] Benipayo, Cong. [Romeo] Jalosjos, [Comelec chairman Benjamin] Abalos, among others," he explained.
Liberal Party (LP) senators on Friday described the filing of cases against the neophyte senator as "illegal."
"The Sandiganbayan, not the RTC (regional trial court), has jurisdiction over the case as the alleged wrongdoing were supposedly committed when she was Justice Secretary," Senators Bam Aquino, Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan, all members of the Liberal Party (LP), said in a joint statement.
The three senators also called for total impartiality on De Lima's case, noting that she has been "pre-judged before any of the charges were filed as no less than the President vowed to destroy her in public and was sure De Lima would land in jail before any case was filed."
Meanwhile, Aguirre said he has inhibited himself from all the cases that involve De Lima.
De Lima was charged with violation of Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 3 (jj), Section 26 (b), and Section 28 (criminal liability of government officials and employees) of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
De Lima's co-accused in the three cases include former Bureau of Corrections Director Franklin Bucayu, her former driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, Jose Adrian Dera (alleged nephew and close-in security of De Lima), Bucayu's former staff Wilfredo Elly, Presidential Security Group member Joenel Sanchez (De Lima's former security aide), and high profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian.
De Lima is a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his war against illegal drugs, which is being blamed for the spate of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the past months. —Anna Felicia Bajo/ALG, GMA News