A MUNTINLUPA City court judge on Friday ordered the detention of Senator Leila de Lima at the Philippine National Police-Custodial Center in Camp Crame where two former senators—Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.—are also being held for their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Members of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group arrested De Lima at the Senate Friday morning in connection with the drug charges filed against her by the Justice department.
Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204, who ordered the detention, was the same judge that De Lima questioned when she was still Justice secretary, for releasing two suspected members of the “Alabang Boys” drug syndicate and convicted killer Rolito Go.
The other courts handling separate drug-related charges filed against De Lima gave state prosecutors until the first week of March to answer the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, which her defense lawyers argued should be handled by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The state prosecutors earlier filed a motion asking the courts to reset the hearing for March 3, saying they cannot attend the proceedings because of an early commitment to attend a seminar.
De Lima’s lawyers insisted the cases should be investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman because she was the Justice secretary when the alleged crimes were committed.
The Ombudsman’s mandate is to investigate charges against government officials who are then prosecuted in the Sandiganbayan if evidence warrants it.
One of the lawyers, Teddy Rigoroso, said the state lacked evidence to prove the allegation that De Lima was involved in the illegal drug trade. He added that a motions to quash has yet to be resolved by the court.
“Under the Constitution, the judge is required to personally go over the records of the case before determining whether to issue a warrant of arrest or not,” Rigoroso said.
Before her arrest, De Lima spent Thursday night at the Senate. On Friday, she underwent booking procedures at the CIDG headquarters before she was brought to Muntinlupa and was presented to the court for the return of her warrant.
The senator’s co-accused in the drug-related charges, her former bodyguard-driver Ronnie Dayan and former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos also underwent the same same procedures.
At present, there are 25 inmates detained at the PNP Custodial Center including former senators Estrada and Revilla, who were charged for plunder for their alleged involvement in the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.
De Lima was escorted by several police officers in a convoy from Camp Crame on her way to Muntinlupa. Members of the PNP Special Weapons and Tactics also provided security for her outside the building.
Members of the media were not allowed to enter the building.
De Lima, a harsh critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was taken to the custodial center aboard a white coaster escorted by CIDG director Chief Supt. Roel Obusan at 2 p.m.
Sources said she was put either in the cell vacated by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile or the one that held communists leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma.
De Lima’s cell is only meters away from the detention rooms of Estrada and Revilla.
A source said there is no air-conditioning in the room, which has an electric fan and its own comfort room.
De Lima is the only female inmate among the 25 detained at the custodial center.
“We will make sure she’s safe in our custody,” said PNP spokesman Sr. Supt Dionardo Carlos.
A few hours before De Lima was taken to her cell, the senator underwent the booking procedure, having her mugshots and fingerprints taken, and undergoing a medical exam.
De Lima stayed at the conference room of the CIDG office accompanied by Senator Francis Pangilinan and her lawyer for hours after taking lunch.
PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa was not in Camp Crame at the time.
De Lima’s co-accused and former lover Dayan was arrested at his home in Urbiztondo, Pangasinan at 7 p.m. Thursday, two hours after the Muntinlupa court issued an arrest warrant against him and the senator.
Dayan, escorted by police operatives from the Urbiztondo Police Station underwent booking procedures and a medical examination before being taken to the Muntinlupa RTC the following day.
In Camp Aguinaldo, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. dismissed a potential destabilization plot against the Duterte administration with the arrest of De Lima.
Esperon also laughed off reports of anti-Duterte groups trooping to the streets to protest the arrest of De Lima.
“I don’t think there should be anything to worry about. This is a weekend of celebration, this is a happy celebration of peaceful transformation,” said Esperon of the Feb. 25 commemoration of the Edsa People Power uprising that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986l
“It’s ridiculous if they will defend a secretary who benefitted from narcotics in the Philippines. Is that what they are fighting for? asked Esperon.
He assured the public that both the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are on top of the situation.
Esperon joined the key players of the Edsa revolt, former President Fidel Ramos, ex-Senate president and defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Gregorio Honasan at a simple ceremony to mark the occasion.
Asked to comment on charges that De Lima was a political prisoner, Enrile said: “There’s no such thing as a political prisoner. You are a prisoner, period.”
Enrile was detained in the same custodial center when De Lima was Justice secretary, for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam but was later acquitted.
De Lima issued a statement upon her arrest, which she called “an appalling sign of the return of a power-hungry, morally bankrupt and abusive government.”
“As we expected, the Department of Justice filed criminal cases against me based on manufactured stories accusing me of involvement in the drug trade,” she said.
She questioned the use of convicted drug lords as state witnesses against her, and referred to Duterte’s use of Fetanyl, an addictive pain killer.
“As reward for testifying against me, this administration, through the Department of Justice restored the privileges of these inmates—the very same privileges that I put an end to during my term as the secretary of Justice,” she said.
“Their revolting plan: Convicted criminals become state witnesses so they can be exonerated from their crimes. They are not the heroes that this administration is forcing us to believe.
“Where else in the world have you seen drug lords turned into state witnesses? All they have ever done is to follow the badly-written script of this administration to pin me down with baseless accusations for their personal gain.
She accused her successor, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of coddling prisoners in exchange for their testimony while Solicitor General Jose Calida sought the acquittal of convicted kidnapper and the indicted mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles.
“From the very beginning, I knew that this regime would not seek true justice. The filing of criminal cases against me is only the fulfillment of Mr. Duterte’s fixation for revenge against me, because of my investigation of the Davao Death Squad when I was then the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.
“The Filipino people know your style, Mr. President. To put the rule of law in your hands, silence your critics, and destroy those who will go against your caprices,” she said, tying the 7,000 deaths under his war on illegal drugs to the more than 1,000 killed when he was mayor of Davao City.
“Truth is, even though he has killed over 1,000 in Davao and over 7,000 throughout the Philippines with his death squads and rogue police, he has yet to pay for it under the law,” she said.
“But perhaps now he can be made accountable for his horrible crime against humanity,” she added, referring to the recent testimony of a former policeman who claimed to be a member of Duterte’s Davao Death Squad.
“I speak before you with honor and integrity as my only defense. As former human rights chairperson and Justice secretary, I can look everyone straight in the eye and say: My track record as a public servant has never been tarnished by any wrongdoing, except until now based on manufactured lies. I have never used and will never use my position for my personal interest.
“I am innocent. I have never betrayed and I will never betray the trust of my country and the Filipino people.”
She ended her statement with a call to action by “people of conscience everywhere... to remain vigilant and continue to fight, so that true justice and respect for human rights prevail.”
“Let us not allow this administration to continue violating our Constitution, disrespecting our laws, and taking the lives of our countrymen…. Let us fight for our rights, let us fight for justice, let us fight for democracy.”
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