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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ombudsman or RTC: Who has jurisdiction over De Lima's drug cases?

Arianne F. Merez, ABS-CBN News
Posted at Feb 21 2017 12:20 AM

MANILA - Who should have jurisdiction over Senator Leila de Lima’s drug cases?  

De Lima on Monday argued that the cases should have been filed before the Ombudsman since she is a public official.

READ: De Lima to challenge jurisdiction of RTC over drug cases

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), meanwhile, invoked Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which provides that drug cases should be tried at regional trial courts.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) last Friday filed three criminal cases before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) against De Lima for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary when she was still justice secretary. 

De Lima was accused of violating Section 5 and Section 28 of RA 9165 which pertains to the sale and trade of illegal drugs, and the criminal liability of government officials and employees.

The VACC and the DOJ used Article 11 Section 90 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which provides that “the Supreme Court shall designate special courts from among the existing Regional Trial Courts in each judicial region to exclusively try and hear cases involving violations of this Act” as the basis for filing the cases at a Muntinlupa RTC.

“The DOJ shall designate special prosecutors to exclusively handle cases involving violations of this Act,” the law also says. 

De Lima and her lawyers, meanwhile, are invoking the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan laws, which provide that it has jurisdiction over “officials of the executive branch occupying the positions of regional director and higher, otherwise classified as Grade 27 and higher, of the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 or Republic Act No. 6758,” a law that covers De Lima given that she was with the executive branch when the alleged crime was committed. 


De Lima’s legal counsel Atty. Alex Padilla also said there is no probable cause in the 3 cases since there has been no evidence to indict De Lima for drug trafficking. 

Padilla said if the argument is that De Lima benefitted from the illegal drug trade to fund her senatorial bid, then the charges should be bribery and not drug trafficking. 

“There was no proof, wala naming nahuli… Drug trading was put there to make it beyond bail,” Padilla said on Monday’s episode of ANC’s “Talkback.”

“It’s a matter of principle. We actually believe that the Sandiganbayan or the Ombudsman actually has jurisdiction over these cases and I think the criminal information likewise proves that,” he added.

Padilla said they have already filed a motion to quash based on lack of jurisdiction.

Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, legal counsel for VACC, argued that De Lima’s case is not the only case of a public official which should fall under a regional trial court.

Topacio cited former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s electoral sabotage case which is still pending in a Regional Trial Court in Pasay.

“It was proper for the cases to have been brought before the Regional Trial Court instead of the Sandiganbayan,” Topacio said.

Responding to Padilla’s argument that no evidence was produced to indict De Lima for drug trafficking, Topacio anchored his argument on the testimonies of inmates who accused De Lima of benefiting from the drug trade.

Topacio cited inmate Noel Martinez’s story as proof of the former justice chief’s involvement in the illegal drug trade.

“Mr. Noel Martinez, one of the witnesses, has been my client since 2013 and he has been telling me the same story since 2013,” Topacio said.

"If the convict confesses and narrates the drug trading, that's no longer hearsay because you personally experienced it," he added.

Padilla said even though the inmates claim that De Lima was involved in the drug trade, there is no other evidence to support what they said. 

On Monday, Muntinlupa regional trial court judges Juanita Guerrero (branch 204), Amelia Fabros-Corpuz (branch 205) and Patria Manalastas-de Leon (branch 206) were chosen via raffle to hear De Lima's cases.

If convicted, De Lima faces between 12 years to life in prison. Under the law, legislators only enjoy privilege from arrest for crimes punishable by fewer than 6 years’ imprisonment.

“We’re hoping that the court will judiciously consider our motion. Aside from that, they have to judicially determine if there is probable cause for the issuance of a warrant," Padilla said.


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