MANILA, Philippines – Muntinlupa Regional Trial court (RTC) judges tasked to handle the 3 drug trade charges of Senator Leila de Lima have either inhibited or retired, sending the cases back and forth the different branches of the court nearly a year since she was sent to jail.
Judge Patria Manalastas de Leon availed of optional retirement effective February 1, Branch 206 confirmed to Rappler on Wednesday, February 14.
Pending the appointment of a new judge, criminal case Number 17-167 remains with Branch 206.
Under the case, De Lima is accused of conspiring with former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Jesus Bucayu, Bucayu’s former staff Wilfredo Elli, inmate Jaybee Sebastian, Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former security aide Joenel Sanchez, and a certain nephew Jad de Vera, to trade drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison to allegedly raise funds for her 2016 senatorial bid.
A total of 3 judges have also inhibited, causing various re-raffles in the RTC since the cases were filed before the court on February 17, 2017.
“During the re-raffle on January 22, Judge Antonietta Medina of Branch 276 inhibited herself, verbally saying she’s a classmate and kumare of the senator,” said lawyer Fhillip Sawali, De Lima's chief of staff.
After Medina’s first recusal, the case went to Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao of Branch 203. But Quiambao also inhibited, saying that most of the members of the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution panel are her friends.
The case was re-raffled back to Medina on February 5, but she again inhibited, her staff confirmed to Rappler on Wednesday.
Another re-raffle was held on Monday, February 12, and the case went to Judge Amelia Fabros Corpuz of Branch 205.
Corpuz already handles Criminal Case Number 17-166, but now she also handles Criminal Case Number 17-165 that went quite the round. Corpuz’s staff told Rappler on Wednesday that as it stands, their branch is handling both cases.
Criminal Case Number 17-165 used to include former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, before the DOJ dropped him in the complaint to turn him into a state witness.
Criminal Case Number 17-166 only has De Lima and De Vera as the accused.
Muntinlupa has only has 8 courts. According to De Lima's legal team, only branches 203, 204, 205, 206 and 276 are criminal courts which would explain the fact that the re-raffles were limited to these 5 courts.
De Lima will mark her first year in jail on February 24. She had yet to be arraigned in any of the cases as the DOJ amends its charges, heeding the advice of the Supreme Court. (READ: De Lima supporters call for her release after a year in jail)
In October 2017, the High Court junked the petition of De Lima and ruled that the DOJ and the RTC had jurisdiction over her cases, thus keeping her in jail.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, among the 6 dissenters in the decision, had called the ruling as “one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world." – Rappler.com