THE Justice Department filed a criminal case Wednesday against Senator Leila de Lima before a Quezon City metropolitan trial court for ignoring a summons of Congress.
In a resolution written by Assistant State Prosecutor Vilma Lopez-Sarmiento, the department approved the indictment of De Lima after it found probable cause to hold De Lima liable for violating Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes “disobedience to summons” after she ignored a House summons to appear before its inquiry into the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison.
De Lima’s indictment comes a year after she left her post as Justice secretary to run for the Senate in May.
The senator said she would swiftly respond to the charge, describing it as a way to save face, after the House investigation failed to establish a link between her and the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
She added that she has yet to receive a copy of the complaint against her.
“This rush to crucify me publicly through inaccurate press releases and statements, even before allowing me the chance to learn about the charges against me and to prepare my defense, speaks loudly and clearly of the real motivation behind the filing of this case,” she said.
“Therefore, pending our receipt of the formal notice by the proper court, my legal team is currently reviewing all options available to us—but with the disadvantage of not really knowing what the allegations and evidence against me are.”
De Lima also kept up her attack on President Rodrigo Duterte, branding him a drug addict and saying he should be on top of his list of narco-politicians.
“At least I, whom he recklessly and wrongly accuses as a narco-politician, haven’t taken a single addictive drug in my life, while he who runs amok and froths in the mouth like a rabid animal has the temerity to make up a list,” said De Lima.
De Lima said Duterte should stop taking Fentanyl, a powerful pain killer, because it has already driven him to “madness and to fits of paranoia where everyone he sees is either a drug addict or a drug lord.”
The prosecutors found probable cause just eight days after House leaders led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a complaint on December 13.
The Justice Department cited as basis De Lima’s repeated refusal to appear before the House inquiry and the advice she gave to her former lover and driver Ronnie Dayan to go into hiding to avoid testifying before the panel.
“Respondent’s advice to Mr. Dayan through his daughter to hide and not to appear in the House inquiry constitutes an act amounting to restraining another to attend as a witness in the national assembly [now Congress of the Philippines] and inducing disobedience to a summons,” the resolution said.
The penalty for the offense is one to six months in prison and/or a fine ranging from P200 to P1,000.
Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr. said the department resolved the case through a summary hearing without giving De Lima a chance to answer the charges because the complaint involved a light offense.
De Lima will not have to post bail and will not be arrested, he said.
In their complaint, House leaders cited Dayan’s testimony that De Lima advised him to snub the invitation of the panel to testify.
In an earlier hearing, Dayan’s daughter Hannah Mae even showed lawmakers a text message purportedly from De Lima advising her father to hide and not to appear before the panel.
On the same grounds, House leaders have also filed an ethics complaint before the Senate against De Lima.
De Lima is facing a separate case for drug trafficking, graft, qualified bribery and violations of Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Presidential Decree 46 or the law on accepting gifts over her alleged involvement in the NBP drug trade.
Two lawmakers, Reps. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro and Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list welcomed the Justice Department move.
Umali, chairman of the House committee on justice, said his panel has done its part to ferret out the truth.
“It is the DoJ’s show,” he said.
Roque also welcomed the DoJ case against De Lima, saying it was high time that the former Justice secretary answer all the allegations hurled against her before a proper forum.
Roque added that the formal filing of charges against De Lima “will send the message that the powerful are not above the law.”