OSG: Technicality could doom Leila plea before SC

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Did Sen. Leila de Lima submit to the Supreme Court (SC) a fabricated certificate that could doom her petition to stop her indictment in drug trafficking cases?

This issue was raised during yesterday’s oral arguments at the SC, as De Lima’s lawyers denied an allegation by Solicitor General Jose Calida that she violated a rule requiring her to sign personally the petition before a notary public.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. said the allegation is “very serious” as he ordered De Lima to submit the affidavit of lawyer Maria Cecille Tresvelles-Cabalo, who supposedly administered the senator’s signing of the petition on Feb. 24 at Camp Crame.

“I’m bothered by this because this could be a serious breach of Rule 65,” Velasco said, referring to the Rules of Court.

De Lima’s counsels led by former solicitor general Florin Hilbay said the allegation was false.

Hilbay told the high tribunal that Cabalo met De Lima at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group headquarters at Camp Crame where the senator signed the petition.

Velasco cited records from the Philippine National Police (PNP) submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) showing no “Atty. Cabalo” visited De Lima on that day.

In her statement read by Hilbay, De Lima claimed the allegation is borne out of desperation, noting the OSG resorted to the basest of technicalities instead on substantial arguments against the merits of her petition.

Calida stood by his allegation and submitted affidavits of PNP officers saying it was impossible for Cabalo to have met with De Lima at the camp.

“She must be imagining things. It must be the spirit of the lawyer since I have the affidavits that the notary public did not go to Camp Crame,” Calida said.

The OSG said De Lima’s failure to personally sign the petition before a lawyer should invalidate her action before the SC.

Calida said Cabalo is De Lima’s sorority sister at the San Beda College of Law’s Lambda Rho Sigma, which was co-founded by the senator.

Meanwhile, the SC discussed anew the issue on whether De Lima’s petition was premature, as she had raised the same issues before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), which is handling her drug cases.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta said De Lima should have exhausted all available remedies in the RTC before going to the SC.

Peralta said the pending motion to quash charges she filed before the Muntinlupa court could pose a problem to her bid to secure relief from the high court.

“It is pending before you came here. Why not wait for the RTC? In all cases that came here on lack of probable cause, the RTC first answered the queries of the accused,” Peralta said.

The magistrate said that in all similar cases that went to the SC, there was always a finding of probable cause by the lower court. 

The high tribunal grilled Hilbay on the issue of conflicting jurisdiction of the RTC and the Sandiganbayan over the De Lima case as well as the violation of the hierarchy of courts.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio asked Hilbay what made De Lima’s case special and important that she needed to go directly to the SC.

Hilbay enumerated several reasons, including the special concern of the petitioner on statements issued by ranking government officials, which she said gave the case a “political context.”

Carpio said he wanted to hear more compelling reasons why De Lima should be an exemption to the rule on hierarchy of courts.

He told Hilbay to write these reasons in a memorandum.

The two-hour hearing concluded at 4 p.m. and will resume on March 28 for the OSG’s presentation of arguments in defense of the Department of Justice and Judge Juanita Guerrero, who issued the arrest warrant against De Lima.  

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