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De Lima sees looming arrest over drug charges

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Leila de Lima expressed fears yesterday that she might be arrested anytime soon on what she said were trumped up drug charges set to be filed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II before the courts.

De Lima, who has been tagged by President Duterte as a “mother” or “queen” of drug lords, said she has it on good authority from a source in the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Aguirre is rushing the preparation of her non-bailable cases to be filed before the regular courts to obtain arrest warrants.

“And then here comes very reliable information from within that they (DOJ) are close to (coming) up with the resolution finding probable cause against me, and worse, to bring it the regular courts. Why? So that they can immediately get warrants of arrest,” the senator told reporters.

Among the charges expected to be filed against De Lima was for alleged violation of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, in connection with her alleged receipt of P8 million from self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa during the electoral campaign last year.

She said she expects that her co-accused – mostly drug convicts at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) – would turn state witness and she could be the lone accused in the complaints.

De Lima said the proper venue for the complaints to be filed should be the Office of the Ombudsman as she is a government official. And if ever the same will be elevated for trial, the cases should be tried before the Sandiganbayan, not in the regular courts.

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The senator expects the ombudsman to be fair and objective and conduct a thorough preliminary investigation in determining whether the allegations have merit, compared to Aguirre, who she said has already prejudged her.

De Lima filed last month two urgent motions to stop the DOJ from proceeding with the investigation on jurisdictional grounds before the Court of Appeals (CA).

The complaints against De Lima were filed before the DOJ by the National Bureau of Investigation, crime watchdog group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala and high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian in relation to her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary.

She lamented the CA has yet to act on her petition amid rumors that some of the justices have inhibited from tackling her pleas.

On Tuesday, De Lima again sought relief from the CA to stop the preliminary investigation of the DOJ on drug trafficking and other criminal charges against her.

This time, the senator asked the CA to issue a temporary restraining order enjoining the DOJ from resolving the complaint filed by the NBI against her and Espinosa for the P8 million allegedly given to her as protection money from the drug lord through her former driver-lover, Ronnie Dayan.

In her new petition, De Lima said the DOJ probe “is a waste of time and government resources” as Aguirre himself said the prosecutors would submit their findings to the ombudsman.

She also branded the DOJ preliminary investigation as a mere “charade” aimed at persecuting her for being vocal against the government’s war on drugs.

The senator claimed there has been violation of her rights by the agency she headed for over five years under the previous administration as she questioned the impartiality and objectivity of the DOJ in resolving the charges.

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