No abuse of discretion in arrest warrant vs De Lima – Justice Tijam
MANILA, Philippines – Contrary to the arguments of detained Senator Leila de Lima, the judge who ordered her arrest based on an illegal drugs case did not commit grave abuse of discretion, Supreme Court (SC) Justice Noel Tijam said.
Tijam was one of the 9 SC justices who voted to dismiss the petition filed by De Lima, seeking to nullify the arrest warrant issued by Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Juanita Guerrero and questioning the jurisdiction of the local court over her case.
De Lima said the warrant was issued despite having a motion to quash pending before the judge.
In his separate concurring opinion, Tijam said De Lima failed to show that the judge committed grave abuse of discretion.
"What is peculiar with the instant case is that it imputes grave abuse of discretion to an act of omission. Petitioner ultimately questions respondent judge's failure to act on her motion to quash," he wrote.
But he pointed out that without an actual denial by the RTC, the basis for De Lima's petition and reliefs sought were "conjectures."
Tijam also said that by going to the SC even as the RTC had not yet ruled on her motion to quash, De Lima violated the principle of hierarchy of courts and the rule against forum shopping.
He also said that the warrant was validly issued, contrary to De Lima's claim that the judge did not make a personal determination of probable cause.
"Contrary to petitioner's argument, the wordings of the February 27, 2017, Order reveal that respondent judge reviewed the availble evidence and evaluared whether the same corresponds to the allegations in the Information," Tijam wrote.
He added: "On this note, I agree with Justice Velasco that the respondent judge can be said to have even exceeded what is required of her under our procedural rules. In reviewing the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation and the Information, the respondent judge made a de novo determination of whether probable cause exists to charge petitioner in court."
He also agreed with other justices' opinions that there was no rule requiring the court to resolve the motion to quash before the issuance of an arrest warrant.
On the question of the RTC's jurisdiction, Tijam said that while the law grants the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan a broad authority to try high-ranking public officials, it "cannot be deemed to supersede the clear intent of Congress to grant RTCs exclusive authority to try drug-related offenses."
He also said that De Lima's argument that the crime she is accused of was direct bribery and not conspiracy to commit illegal trading "springs from a piecemeal reading of the allegations in the Information."
De Lima is accused of facilitating the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison back when she was justice secretary, allegedly to help fund her 2016 senatorial bid.
He said that it was clear that the Information alleges that illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid prison was facilitated or tolerated because of, or "by reason" of, the money delivered to the then-justice secretary. – Rappler.com