Leila de Lima

Second judge inhibits from Leila de Lima case in less than a month

Jairo Bolledo

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Second judge inhibits from Leila de Lima case in less than a month

STILL DETAINED. Former senator Leila de Lima attends the hearing on June 5 for her remaining drug-related case filed against her at the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) This means the judge will stop handling the case and the charge would be transferred again to another court

MANILA, Philippines – In another turn of events, the current Muntinlupa City judge handling former senator Leila de Lima’s remaining drug charge inhibited from the case – the second judge to do so in less than a month.

“With the foregoing, the undersigned Presiding Judge will exercise prudent discretion and voluntarily desist from hearing the case not because the prosecution’s assertion is true but to put to rest any questions against his credibility, integrity, and fairness. WHEREFORE, the Motion for Voluntary Inhibition is granted,” Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara said in his order dated Thursday, July 6.

Alcantara announced his inhibition the same day the motion to inhibit filed by Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors was made public. In their motion, the prosecutors said they “cannot help but be apprehensive that the Honorable Presiding Judge will carry over his perceptions to the instant case,” pertaining to Judge Alcantara’s previous decision acquitting De Lima. 

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

The case would need to be re-raffled again – for the second time this year – to another Muntinlupa court. The said process will take time, including the transfer of necessary case files from one court to another.

Alcantara’s decision to inhibit came only a few days after De Lima’s case was transferred to his jurisdiction. 

Previously, De Lima’s co-accused asked Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura to inhibit himself, citing conflict of interest. Judge Buenaventura, in an order dated June 15, inhibited from the case.

De Lima has been detained for more than six years after she was slapped with three drug charges filed under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s term. She was accused of allegedly enabling the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.

Two of the three drug cases were already dismissed, but De Lima remains detained because her petition for bail in her remaining drug charge was denied by Judge Buenaventura in early June. 

Ideally, the verdict on De Lima’s last case could be released during the first quarter of 2024, following a directive from the Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator. The directive stated that the trial for De Lima’s remaining drug charge should be finished within nine months, based on court rules. 

Why did the judge inhibit? 

In his order, Judge Alcantara explained that to prevent the delay in De Lima’s case, the court should promptly resolve the prosecution’s motion.

Alcantara said that difference in opinion on applicable laws and jurisprudence between legal counsels and the judge is not a proper ground for disqualification in the case. Opinions framed in the course of judicial proceedings – as long as based on evidence – do not constitute bias or prejudice, said the judge. 

“By acquitting the accused in Criminal Case No. 17-165 based on the evidence presented, the undersigned Presiding Judge cannot be said to have traversed the line that divides neutrality and partiality,” Judge Alcantra said. 

The presiding judge further explained that a judge must always maintain the trust and faith of parties-litigants. And at the very first sign of lack of faith “whether well-grounded or not,” the judge has no “alternative” but to stop handling the case, Alcantara said. 

“That way, he or she avoids being misunderstood, his or her reputation for probity and objectivity is preserved. What is more important, the ideal of impartial administration of justice is lived up to,” the presiding judge added. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

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