SC’s Carpio says Sandiganbayan Law should prevail

Lian Buan
SC’s Carpio says Sandiganbayan Law should prevail
This is consistent with the position taken by the De Lima camp which says it is the anti-graft court that has jurisdiction over the detained senator because it is covered by a later law

MANILA, Philippines – Justices who interpellated the camp of detained Senator Leila de Lima during the Supreme Court oral arguments on Tuesday, March 14, raised questions about overlapping laws on jurisdiction and court hierarchy.

In his line of questioning, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, however, led former solicitor general Florin Hilbay to say that when jurisdiction over a case is vested in two different bodies, it is the later law that should prevail.

Carpio asked, “In instances of two laws stating exclusive jurisdictions of two different bodies, which law shall prevail?”

Hilbay, lead oralist for De Lima, said that by principle, it is always the later law which prevails, and that the later law is the Sandiganbayan Law. 

Hilbay had said in his opening statement that Presidential Decree 1606 or the Sandiganbayan Law clearly states that it is the anti-graft court which has jurisdiction over public officials who commit a crime in relation to their office. (READ: Hilbay: OSG case vs De Lima different from DOJ charges)

This is refuted by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who will be arguing for the public respondents. Calida previoously said in his comment that Section 90 of the Dangerous Drugs Act gives jurisdiction to the trial court to try anyone – public officials or not – charged for violation of the drugs law.

De Lima is charged with 3 counts of drug trade or section 5 of the drugs law.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro pointed out, however, that it’s only the amendment of the Sandiganbayan Law which came later than the drugs law.

“The Sandiganbayan Law was actually enacted before the Dangerous Drugs Act,” De Castro said. 

Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act was enacted in 2002, repealing the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. The Sandiganbayan Law, on the other hand, was enacted in 1978. It was amended in 2015 to expand the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court.

Hilbay said in reply, “I would consider, Your Honor, the Sandiganbayan statute as amended as covering all grounds when it comes to jurisdictional questions.” 

The repealing clause of the law says that other laws, decrees, orders, and issuances which are inconsistent are considered “modified and repealed accordingly”.

Pre-empted RTC?

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr scored De Lima’s camp for pre-empting the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) which is yet to resolve their motions to quash the drug charges against the detained senator.

Velasco said that even in their petition submitted to the SC, De Lima’s camp said that it is precisely the non-resolution by the RTC of their motion to quash that makes the arrest of De Lima invalid.

De Lima’s lawyers filed a motion to quash on the basis of lack of jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa trial court immediately after the informations were filed. 

They were counting on the regional trial court not issuing an arrest warrant, but Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero still proceeded and ordered De Lima’s arrest.

“You’re  banking on the RTC to resolve the motion so it is premature to invite us to this case. Why can’t we wait for the Muntinlupa judge to resolve the motion to quash?” Velasco asked.

Hilbay said there is an “element of deep frustration and disappointment” on the part of De Lima toward the trial court that prompted her camp to seek relief from the SC.

Hilbay was referring to their repeated contention that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should never have investigated De Lima because it was the Ombudsman who, according to them, had the power and the jurisdiction to do so.

There was slight tension when Velasco grilled Hilbay on the latter’s basis for saying it is basic principle that a judge resolve a motion to quash first before she can issue an arrest order.

“Because if so, every lawyer for an accused will just file and file motions so an arrest warrant cannot be issued, is that what you want?” Velasco said.

Hilbay answered: “But in relation to this case, the Judge, by reading the motion, would have known she doesn’t have jurisdiction. In fact a law student would have known. How difficult was that?”

Velasco went back to his earlier point that they should have waited for the RTC to decide on the motion before running to the SC.

“That is precisely why the RTC judge should decide, you pre-empted the RTC judge,” Velaso said.

Forum shopping?

Justice Diosdado Peralta pointed out that as what Calida alleged in his comment, De Lima may have committed forum shopping when she sought relief from the SC.

“You filed the same petitions before two different courts,” Peralta said, referring to the motion to quash filed before the RTC and petitions for certiorari and prohibition filed before the SC, both having the same nature of questioning jurisdiction.

Hilbay said they had to resort to the SC due to the urgency that arose from De Lima’s detention.

In his comment, Calida also said that De Lima violated the hierarchy of courts when she skipped the Court of Appeals (CA) and went straight to the SC.

De Lima has a pending petition before the CA that questions the jurisdiction of the DOJ to investigate her. This was filed even before the DOJ filed the charges against her.

Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe asked Hilbay their basis for going straight to the SC and exempting themselves from the doctrine of hierarchy of courts.

Hilbay said: “This case falls squarely into the exemptions recognized by the Court, as I’ve stated earlier, the proceedings here were due to investigations conducted by institutions with no jurisdiction at various levels, and that is more than sufficient for the Court to recognize the exemption in favor of De Lima.”

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno adjourned the oral arguments after the interpellation of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. Calida will have his turn to present and be interpellated next Tuesday, March 21, also starting at 2 pm. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.