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Friday, July 26, 2024

CA sustains decision to exclude officials in De Lima case

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The Court of Appeals (CA) has sustained its October 2021 decision that denied the plea of detained former senator Leila de Lima to include former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and several high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prisons as accused in the illegal drug cases filed against him before the Muntinlupa courts.

In a six-page resolution, the CA’s Former Fifteenth Division through Associate Justice Victoria Isabel Paredes denied De Lima’s motion for reconsideration of its October 28, 2021 decision, saying that the petitioner failed to raise new arguments that would warrant the reversal of the said ruling.

The appellate court also reiterated that it is within the discretion of the prosecution who to charge and prosecute in a criminal case.

“Again, the prosecution of crimes pertains to the Executive Branch of government whose principal duty is to see to it that our laws are faithfully executed. Courts are not empowered to substitute their own judgment for that of the executive branch,” the CA stressed.

“Differently stated, as the matter of whether to prosecute or not is purely discretionary on his part, courts cannot compel a public prosecutor to file the corresponding information, upon a complaint, where he finds the evidence before him insufficient to warrant the filing of an action in court,” it said.

The CA stressed that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the prosecution in amending the information it filed and excluded Ragos as one of the respondents in one of the  illegal drug cases against the former senator.

The appellate court pointed out that Section 14, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure grants the prosecutor the discretion to amend, in form or in substance the complaint or information without leave of court at any time before the accused enters his plea.

The provision further states that any amendment before plea, which downgrades the nature of the offense charged in or excludes any accused from the information, can be made only upon motion by the prosecutor, with notice to the offended party and with leave of court.

“Thus, the right to prosecute vests the public prosecutors with a wide range of discretion – the discretion of what and whom to charge, the exercise of which depends on a smorgasbord of factors that are best appreciated by the public prosecutors,” the CA said.

“Public Prosecutors are solely responsible for the determination of the amount of evidence sufficient to establish probable cause to justify the filing of the appropriate criminal charges against a respondent. Theirs is also the quasi- judicial discretion to determine whether or not criminal cases should be filed in court,” it added.

De Lima filed the consolidated  petitions before the CA after the Regional Trial Court Branches 204 and 205 of Muntinlupa City denied his motion seeking to reinstate Ragos as one of her co-accused in the illegal drug case (Criminal Case No. 17-165).

In the said case, De Lima, her aide Ronnie Dayan and Ragos were accused of soliciting and extorting money from high-profile inmates who were behind the illegal drug operations in the NBP.

Ragos claimed that he delivered more than P10 million proceeds of illegal drug trade inside the NBP  to De Lima on several occasions in 2012 to support his senatorial bid.

The prosecution eventually amended the information to drop Ragos as accused in the case and subsequently made  him a prosecution witness.

De Lima also assailed the May 29, 2019 order of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 denying her motion to include prosecution witnesses Herbert Coanggo, Engelberto Duranto, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, Peter Co, Noel Martinez, Reynante Diaz, Jaime Patcho, German Agojo, Hans Antonio Tan, Joel Capones, Rodolfo Magleo and Froilan Trestiza as accused in Criminal Case No. 17-167.

De Lima asserted that they are not ordinary witnesses but are inmates of NBP who allegedly sold and traded illegal drugs inside the NBP by means of mobile phones and other electronic devices.

In denying the consolidated petitions, the CA ruled : “The decision whether or not to dismiss the criminal complaint against respondent is necessarily dependent on the sound discretion of the investigating prosecutor and ultimately, that of the Secretary of Justice.”

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