Leila de Lima

Muntinlupa court handling De Lima case ordered to finish trial within 9 months

Jairo Bolledo

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Muntinlupa court handling De Lima case ordered to finish trial within 9 months

Supporters hold a picket outside the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice, as former senator Laila de Lima attends the hearing on the remaining drug related case filed against her, on June 5, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Based on the Office of the Court Administrator's directive, the verdict on De Lima's pending case could be released no later than January 2024

MANILA, Philippines –The Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) has ordered the Muntinlupa City court handling former senator Leila de Lima’s remaining drug charge to finish trial of the case within nine months.

In a copy of the court order dated May 18, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura responded to the OCA’s order, which mandated the court to finish De Lima’s trial in less than a year.

“The Memorandum is hereby NOTED. IN VIEW THEREOF, the Panel of Prosecutors is hereby directed to complete and terminate its presentation of evidence on June 05, 19, and 26, 2023, all at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, as previously scheduled,” Judge Buenaventura said in his order.

The court order was made public on Thursday, June 8.

In his memorandum dated April 28, Court Administrator Raul Villanueva directed Judge Buenaventura to “prioritize and decide” the case within nine months, “considering that the instant case has been pending for six (6) years, and to update the status of the case as soon as it has been disposed of.” Villanueva also mentioned in his memorandum the OCA Circular No. 83-2023, which provided periods in deciding cases.

Under the said OCA circular, cases should be decided in the following periods:

  • Cases pending for less than five years should be decided within three months.
  • Cases pending for five years years or more, but less than 10 years should be decided within nine months.
  • Cases pending for 10 years or more should be decided within a year.

De Lima’s pending case falls under the second category. Since the OCA’s order to Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 was issued in April, the verdict on De Lima’s pending case should be released no later than January 2024.

De Lima is facing only one drug charge, which is pending under Judge Buenaventura’s jurisdiction. In the said case, the former lawmaker was accused of allegedly tolerating the “widespread drug trade” inside New Bilibid Prison’s maximum security compound. Bilibid inmates were also able to allegedly produce P70 million that was allegedly given to the former senator.

She faces the charge along with former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu, Wilfredo Elli, Joenel Sanchez, Jose Dera, and Jaybee Sebastian.

In total, De Lima was slapped with three drug charges filed under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Two of the drug charges were already dismissed by the court: one in February 2021, and then the most recent one in May this year.

However, despite her two acquittals, De Lima will remain behind bars as the trial for her only remaining charge continues after Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 denied her petition for bail. The bail plea was key to De Lima’s temporary freedom over six years after she was detained in 2017.

The De Lima camp, meanwhile, is now eyeing a motion for reconsideration to ask the court to reconsider the bail denial. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

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