De Lima bid vs drug case premature­—SC justices

TWO associate justices of the Supreme Court on Tuesday found the petition of detained Senator Leila de Lima assailing the validity of the warrant of arrest and the proceedings before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court.

De Lima had petitioned that the drug trafficking charges filed against her by the Department of Justice was premature if not violative of the principle of the hierarchy of courts.

Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Diosdado Peralta questioned the move of De Lima’s camp to seek relief directly from the high court despite the pending unresolved motions before Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 who ordered the senator’s arrest for drug trafficking.

The magistrates raised the issue after De Lima’s lawyers, led by former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, appealed to the high court to order her immediate release from detention citing the disagreement in the understanding of the DoJ and Office of the Solicitor General on the nature of the criminal charges filed against her in connection with her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Velasco, who is in charge of the case, questioned the move of De Lima’s camp to seek relief directly from the high court despite the pending unresolved motions before the RTC and for ignoring the principle on hierarchy of courts.

‘‘What I gathered and based on the relief prayed for in the instant petition is that you are merely asking the annulment of the February 23, 2017 warrant of arrest itself and the February 24 order committing the petitioner to the Camp Crame custodial service,’’ Velasco said. 

“We are just confined to the alleged illegality of lack of basis on the part of the judge to issue such directive…”

In justifying the filing of De Lima’s petition before the high court, Hilbay stressed that the petitioner consistently raised the lack of authority of the DoJ to investigate the case against her and the lack of jurisdiction of the lower court to conduct proceedings as basis for dismissing the case.

‘‘We would be wasting our time if this trial proceeded for months and years only if in the end the high court will decide to nullify the proceedings due to lack of jurisdiction...’’ Hilbay said.

Senator Leila de Lima
However, Velasco insisted that the filing of the petition before the Court was too early considering that Judge Guerrero had yet to decide on the motion to quash filed by De Lima.

‘‘This is too premature in my reading,’’Velasco said.

Peralta disagreed with Hilbay’s assertion that the case against De Lima should be dismissed because of the defective information filed against her.

Peralta said that under Rule 117 of the Rules on Criminal Procedures, the remedy for a defective information was not to seek its dismissal but to correct the information.

‘‘The battleground in all criminal cases are those alleged in the information. If you want to determine the validity of the information, you just look at the allegations in the information, there is an allegation of jurisdiction, there is allegation of the facts constituting the offense, the persons identified to have committed the crime are there , so what’s wrong with the information, there is none,’’Peralta said.

Peralta also questioned De Lima’s filing of the petition before the high court seeking the dismissal of the criminal complaint against her on the ground of lack of jurisdiction.

The magistrate implied that De Lima’s remedy was to file a motion to quash the information before the trial court, which she already did, instead of elevating the matter before the high court.

In fact, Peralta said, the jurisdiction of the lower court to handle drug cases had been bolstered by the administrative order issued by the high court designating RTCs to act exclusively on drug cases.

Peralta also disputed the argument of Hilbay that it was the Sandiganbayan that had jurisdiction over De Lima’s case, saying the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court pertained to the person and not over the offense.

‘‘I think the Sandiganbayan law refers on the jurisdiction over the accused. It is not jurisdiction over the offense but jurisdiction over the person or the accused,’’Peralta said.

Peralta also sided with the OSG that De Lima’s petition violated the rule on forum shopping, which was a valid ground for the dismissal of the petition.

De Lima has been under police detention since Feb. 24, a day after Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 ordered her arrest on the basis of the case filed by the DoJ that accuses her of complicity in the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary when she was Justice secretary.

The senator has repeatedly denied the charges, which she said were only intended to persecute her for criticizing the Duterte administration’s approach in waging its war against illegal drugs. 

Topics: Senator Leila de Lima , Drug case , Supreme Court , Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court , Warrant of arrest , Department of Justice , Presbitero Velasco Jr. , Diosdado Peralta
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