Supreme Court affirms De Lima's arrest on drug charges

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) said on Wednesday, June 6, that it had denied with finality the appeal of detained Senator Leila de Lima, and affirmed the validity of her arrest based on the drug charges filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

"No further pleadings or motions will be entertained. Let entry of judgment be made immediately," said the en banc's notice dated April 17 but released to media only on Wednesday.

"The Court resolved to deny with finality the said motion for reconsideration as the basic issues raised therein have been passed upon by this Court and no substantial arguments were presented to warrant the reversal of the questioned Decision," the en banc added.

The denial of De Lima's appeal followed the same voting pattern as the first time, except that former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who dissented earlier, was not able to vote the second time. She was on leave last April. 

Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, who again dissented, said the constitutional right of De Lima – President Rodrigo Duterte's staunchest critic – "has been wantonly violated, and continues to be violated."

The 9 justices who voted to deny De Lima's appeals were associate justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes, and Alexander Gesmundo.

The 5 justices who voted to grant De Lima's appeals were Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and associate justices Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, and Benjamin Caguioa.

Caguioa's dissent

Caguioa hit the double standard that the DOJ applied when it dismissed the drug cases against Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa using the same principle that the justice said was De Lima's argument all along.

Caguioa noted that when the DOJ cleared Lim and Espinosa, it was due to the lack of a corpus delicti or concrete evidence of crime, or drugs in this case. 

"The finding is consistent with my Dissenting Opinion in this case," Caguioa said. 

(Lim and Espinosa are undergoing a new investigation after former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II "vacated" the dismissal of charges and ordered a fresh probe.)

Selling and trading

When it denied De Lima's petition the first time, the SC majority said the DOJ could always amend the charges, which it did.

From illegal drug trading, the case now pending against De Lima before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) is conspiracy to commit drug trading.

Caguioa stressed that "selling" and "trading" drugs involve similar acts under the law, therefore the requirement to prove a sale should also be the same requirement to prove a trade. The requirements to identify the trader or seller, the customer, the delivery of the object, and the modes to facilitate transaction are missing, the justice said.

Caguioa pointed out that the DOJ's charges against De Lima concluded that the testimonies of drug convicts "point to the fact that orders for drugs were transacted inside the New Bilibid Prison while deliveries and payments were done outside."

"A strong suggestion of the existence of the purported objects of drug trading is not sufficient," Caguioa said.

He added that De Lima was correct that only 5 of the concurring justices agreed the first time that illegal drug trading was the correct charge. As pointed out, the DOJ later changed this to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

"Given the big cloud of doubt on the nature of the charge or indictment against petitioner De Lima due to the absence of concurrence by the majority of the members of the Court, the elements of the crime that need to be alleged in the Information becomes nebulous and any finding of probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest is put in serious question," Caguioa said.

Sixteen months after she was arrested, De Lima has yet to be arraigned in any of the 3 counts of drug charges. The DOJ has cleared one accused to make him state witness, and has committed that convict Jaybee Sebastian would plead guilty.

"The inescapable conclusion is that the constitutional right of De Lima to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against her has been wantonly violated, and continues to be violated," Caguioa said.

The Muntinlupa RTC, meanwhile, denied De Lima's request for furlough to attend the law school graduation of her son, prompting supporters to again point out double standard as to when the Sandiganbayan approved the furloughs of pork barrel scam plunder defendants to attend to family concerns. (READ: De Lima cries, writes emotional message on son's graduation) – Rappler.com

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.

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