MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday filed in court three separate drug charges against Sen. Leila de Lima and seven others in connection with the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) – a move that may lead to her arrest and detention without bail.
De Lima and the other respondents were accused of violating Section 5 in relation to Section 26 (B) and Section 28 (criminal liability of government officials and employees) of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
In the complaint filed with the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), prosecutors said De Lima tolerated drug syndicates operating inside the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa in exchange for campaign funds for the 2016 elections when she was secretary of justice.
De Lima has denied the charges, describing them as political persecution.
The first case was filed against De Lima, deputy director Rafael Ragos of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan.
Named respondents in the second case were De Lima and her nephew Jose Adrian Tiamson Dera.
In the third case, named respondents were De Lima, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Franklin Bucayu, alleged bagman of Bucayu Wilfredo Elli, inmate Jaybee Nino Manicad Sebastian, Dayan, Dera and De Lima’s former bodyguard Joenel Tan Sanchez.
The charges were approved and signed by the five-man DOJ panel of prosecutors led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong; Senior Assistant City Prosecutors Alexander Ramos, Leila Llanes and Evangeline Viudez-Canobas; and Assistant State Prosecutor Editha Fernandez.
The panel of prosecutors was created based on Department Orders no. 706 and 790 dated Oct. 14, 2016 and Nov. 11, 2016, respectively.
DOJ Undersecretary Eric Balmes said that the three criminal cases would be raffled on Monday and it would be up to the court branches that would hear these cases to decide if they would issue warrants of arrest.
“We could not influence them (the courts), contrary to the claim of some sectors,” he said.
In the 52-page joint resolution issued by the DOJ’s five-man prosecution panel, they requested that the illegal drugs cases against Herbert Colanggo, Engelberto Acenas Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad and Wu Tuan Yuan alias Peter Co “be dismissed since they will be utilized as prosecution witnesses.”
In the second drug case, they removed the name of former DOJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan III as one of the respondents.
Violations of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Republic Act. No. 6713 on the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standard for Public Officials and Employees would be endorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman for appropriate action.
DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also ordered the NBI and the BuCor to investigate the extortion activities of Daniel Rico Martinez, a religious volunteer organization pastor inside the NBP, as alleged by inmate Froilan “Poypoy” Lacson Trestiza.
Aguirre would also ask the Philippine National Police (PNP) and NBI to investigate the alleged kidnapping of Sally, the niece of Wu Tuan Yuan alias Peter Co, her husband and their companions allegedly by elements of the PNP-National Capital Region Police Office-Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs (NCRPO-RAID) and Dera last March.
The DOJ secretary also directed the NBI to investigate the illegal drug activities and related offenses reportedly committed by Rolan Espinosa alias Kerwin Espinosa on the basis of his extrajudicial confession.
President Duterte yesterday said De Lima should face the three drug-related charges filed against her.
Duterte told reporters in Davao City that De Lima should accept the consequences of her actions after the DOJ filed three drug-related cases against her.
De Lima, a critic of the Duterte administration’s violent war against illegal drugs, was charged before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court earlier yesterday.
The President visited yesterday the wake of slain soldiers Cpl. Michael Yadao and Pvt. Vilmel Damondon at the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) gymnasium yesterday afternoon, after which he also visited the 15 soldiers who were wounded in a series of encounters with New People’s Army rebels in Calinan District, this city.
The President will go to Baguio City to attend today’s Philippine Military Academy annual homecoming rites.
“She will have to face the music,” Duterte said, adding that he believes the cases against De Lima are strong, pointing out that it took months and several witnesses to develop the cases.
“Alam naman ng Pilipino iyan. Alam naman ng Pilipino ang istilo niya (The Filipinos know her, know her style),” he said.
Aguirre assured the public that the charges filed against De Lima and the other accused were not politically motivated.
“Hindi po ito produkto ng pulitika, ito po ay produkto ng (it is not a product of politics, it’s a product of) illegal na drug trade sa Bilibid,” said Aguirre.
He said if politics is involved then the charges against Baraan should have been sustained because he is involved but the evidence against him was not enough.
Aguirre stressed that the complaints against de Lima and the others that was filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), former NBI officials Ruel Lasala and Reynaldo Esmeralda, inmate Jaybee Sebastian and the current NBI administration were studied carefully.
“Talagang pinag-aralan sapagkat napakaraming kaso (it was really been studied carefully),” Aguirre said.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said now that charges have been filed, De Lima has a chance to defend herself before the courts.
“She should welcome (it) because she has a forum to defend herself, to show she’s not guilty,” Panelo added.
Asked if the government prosecutors have the evidence against De Lima, Panelo said the senator will get a taste of her own medicine, recalling how the former justice secretary had caused the detention of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the past administration.
Arroyo was freed after the Supreme Court dismissed the plunder case against her last July in connection with the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes (PCSO) intelligence funds.
The Special Sixth Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) recently denied the request of De Lima for a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would stop the justice department’s prosecutors from proceeding with the hearing on the illegal drug charges filed against her.
In a three-page resolution penned by CA Associate Justice Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, the justices denied the prayer of De Lima for the issuance of an injunctive writ (temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction).
De Lima filed the petition before the CA last January because she believed that the illegal drug complaints should have been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and not the DOJ.
Before injunctive writ is issued, the CA said the senator must show that the following essential requirements are present, namely the right to be protected exists prima facie and the acts sought to be enjoined are violative of that right.
“It must be proven that the violation sought to be prevented would cause an irreparable injury,” the justices said.
They added that the burden of proof is with De Lima.
“Mere allegations of the existence of the above-named requisites, absent proof, cannot be the basis for the issuance of an injunctive writ,” the CA also said.
Named respondents in the case were the DOJ panel of prosecutors; the Volunteers’ Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala; high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian who is represented by his wife Roxanne; and the NBI.
Justice Secretary Aguirre said the CA’s resolution “only means that her petition has no basis in fact and in law.”
However, the CA clarified that they issued the resolution “without necessarily giving due course to the petitioner’s (De Lima) Petition for Prohibition and Certiorari (under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court) With Urgent Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order and Application For a Writ of Preliminary Injunction (petition).”
The appellate court also gave the respondents 10 days, from the receipt of the resolution, to file their comment to the petition.
It also instructed De Lima to file her comment 10 days after she received the respondents’ comments.
The CA also took note of De Lima’s Urgent Motion to Resolve Application for Provisional Reliefs; and her Supplemental Urgent Motion to Resolve Application for Provisional Reliefs.
CA Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Edwin Sorogonon concurred with the resolution.
Rep. Harry Roque of party-list group Akbayan said the DOJ should have filed the charges against De Lima much earlier “given the abundance of evidence.”
He said there were at least 10 drug convicts and other witnesses who testified against De Lima during the House of Representatives investigation into the illegal drug trade at the NBP.
He added that he expects the former justice secretary to be in jail soon.
Roque, who is feuding with his Kabayan colleague Ron Salo, has filed an ethics complaint against De Lima, whom he accused of allegedly colluding with Salo to oust him as a House member.
– With Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, Robertzon Ramirez, Ghio Ong