Leila de Lima

Judge handling De Lima’s remaining drug charge inhibits from case

Jairo Bolledo

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Judge handling De Lima’s remaining drug charge inhibits from case

FREED. In this file photo, supporters tie blue ribbons and raise their palms as they greet detained former justice secretary and senator Leila De Lima who is attending to a drug case filed against her at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial court on January 27, 2023.


(2nd UPDATE) This comes after three of Leila de Lima's co-accused asked Judge Romeo Buenaventura to inhibit from their case due to conflict of interest

MANILA, Philippines – The Muntinlupa judge handling former senator Leila de Lima’s remaining drug case voluntarily inhibited himself from the case in an order made public on Friday, June 16.

“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant motions are hereby GRANTED, and the undersigned Presiding Judge voluntarily inhibits himself from further hearing this case,” read the order of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura.

Inhibiting himself from the remaining drug charge means Judge Buenaventura will stop handling the case.

In his order, the presiding judge said the records of the case shall be transmitted to Muntinlupa City Executive Judge for re-raffle. This means the case would be transferred to ther Muntinlupa City RTC branch for the continuation of the trial.

On June 13, Joenel Sanchez, Ronnie Dayan, and Franklin Jesus Bucayu, De Lima’s co-accused in their pending drug charge, filed three separate motions to inhibit.

Sanchez said in his motion that “several news surfaced that the Honorable Presiding judge is the brother of Atty. [Emmanuel] S. Buenaventura.” He added that, Emmanuel Buenaventura was the one “who assisted Accused Dayan in the execution of his affidavit, which was later, testified to by accused Dayan to be coerced.”

De Lima’s co-accused added that the judge’s sibling also served as a legal adviser to the late lawmaker Reynaldo Umali, who headed the House committee on justice. The said House panel conducted hearings in October 2016, where Sanchez had been subpoenaed to testify.

Judge’s explanation

In his order, Judge Buenaventura explained that in Cabañero vs. Cañon, the Supreme Court laid down the following elements in disqualifying a judge in a case: 

  • There must be adequate evidence to prove the claim
  • It must be shown that the judge had an interest, personal or not, in the case
  • “The bias and prejudice must have stemmed from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case”.

However, none of these elements is present in the case, Buenaventura said.

The presiding judge said, the fact that lawyer Emmanuel is his brother is not sufficient to prove that he “acted with malice, bad faith, and partiality in conducting the proceedings in this case, more so in denying the accused’s petitions and motions for bail.” 

Judge Buenaventura said it was beyond his personal knowledge, as the accused claimed, that his brother was a former counsel to Dayan, who assisted the latter in executing his affidavit.

The judge added that the information about his brother supposedly working for the late former lawmaker Umali was also beyond his personal knowledge. 

“At this juncture, the Presiding Judge maintains that, as dispenser of justice, he has conducted himself with the cold impartiality of an impartial judge, and no one had swayed his judgment and conduct in adjudicating the instant case,” he said. 

However, even though he was, as he claimed, impartial and objective in handling the case, Judge Buenaventura said he recognizes that his actions, regardless of how judiciously made, are vulnerable to claims of bias and partiality.

Buenaventura added that he inhibited himself to preserve “the ideal of cold and impartial dispensation of justice by the Court.”

“For this reason, the undersigned Presiding Judge will exercise his discretion and will recuse himself from further hearing this case not because the allegations are true, but because it is his avowed duty as member of the Bench to promote confidence in the judicial system,” the judge added.

New motion

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, De Lima’s lawyers said they welcomed Buenaventura’s voluntary inhibition but added they were saddened by the judge’s failure to disclose his relationship with his brother. 

The lawyers said they hoped that the case would be immediately raffled to a new judge. They also hoped for a timely intervention from the Supreme Court “maintaining its instruction to the new presiding judge to finish the case within 9 months.” 

The De Lima camp plans to file a motion for reconsideration with the new judge to ask that De Lima’s bail denial be reconsidered. 

“Admittedly, the inhibition of Judge Buenaventura and the transfer of this case to another judge will cause a bit of a delay, but our client is steadfast in her resolve that her vindication is near,” the lawyers said. 

They added: “She continues to believe that truth and justice will prevail and that her vindication from these trumped-up charges will come ‘very very soon.’ In her own words, ‘Walang expiration ang pag-labas ng katotohanan’ (truth has no expiration).” – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.