Leila de Lima

DOJ moves to silence De Lima lawyers as 4-year trial gets intense

Lian Buan

TRIAL. Senator Leila De Lima is photographed here attending a hearing in court with her entourage of police escorts.

File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

The court also issues a verbal order to De Lima's lawyers and the prosecution to refrain from talking to the media

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will move to cite in contempt the lawyers of jailed opposition Senator Leila De Lima over their media statements, as her nearly 4-year trial gets intense in a pandemic-era where coverage is limited by quarantine rules.

“Kami ay mag-fa-file ng petition for contempt kasi yung ginawa ng lawyers ni Senator De Lima is contemptuous. So we will file it at the soonest possible time, expect it to be filed latest by next week,” Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento said on Wednesday, November 11, during a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.

(We will file a petition for contempt because what Senator De Lima’s lawyers did is contemptuous. So we will file it at the soonest possible, expect it to be filed latest by next week.)

Rappler confirmed that the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) has issued a verbal warning to both parties – for them to refrain from releasing statements about the trial to media.

The Supreme Court in 2018 allowed media to cover De Lima’s trial, but when the pandemic hit and quarantine rules were put in place, courts restricted access to non-parties.

The first 3 years of De Lima’s trial moved very slowly, marked by postponements and routine testimonies. She was arrested and jailed in February 2017.

As the case nears its 4th year, however, vital testimonies and discoveries have come about, at least according to the senator’s lawyers.

De Lima’s lawyers, who attend the hearings in court, announced that in September, Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) financial investigator Artemio Baculi Jr testified that De Lima was not involved in any suspicious transactions that would link her to the drug trade.

The DOJ prosecution had been saying all along that an AMLC report would pin De Lima down.

“There is an AMLC report, but the problem is we in the prosecution, we will not discuss it in public. Let the court decide on that,” Malcontento said.

De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon also announced on November 6 that drug convict Vicente Sy said he never handed money to De Lima, contrary to an earlier testimony that he gave P500,000 to the senator for her 2016 campaign.

Malcontento claimed that De Lima’s lawyers are cherry-picking the testimonies when they release them to the media.

“Ang nangyari po kasi dyan yung konting sagot ng witness yun lang ang ipi-pick up at not the entirety of the testimony, wala po yan, it is not fair,” said Malcontento. (What happened there, they only pick up bits of what the witness answers and not the entirety of the testimony, there was (no such recantation), it is not fair.)

Sub judice

Asked for their version of the hearings, Malcontento said they will follow the sub judice rule and keep the trial off the media. It is also what Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra instructed, Malcontento said.

Before the pandemic, DOJ prosecutors in the De Lima trial would give reporters interview. This was during the time when reporters could still cover the hearing. Why invoke sub judice now?

“It’s one thing to state facts about the court proceedings; it’s a totally different matter to give an opinion about the weight of the evidence,” said Guevarra.

De Lima has been joining the hearing via videoconference.

The Supreme Court has allowed a mechanism where the public can apply to access the virtual hearing, but left it to judges to allow it or not. – Rappler.com

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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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.