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De Lima to appeal SC ruling on arrest

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
De Lima  to appeal  SC ruling  on arrest

De Lima said her lawyers would file a motion for reconsideration and “continue to appeal to the sense of fairness and justice” of the high court. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — Embattled Sen. Leila de Lima will appeal the Supreme Court (SC) ruling junking her petition to free her from detention on drug charges.

De Lima said her lawyers would file a motion for reconsideration and “continue to appeal to the sense of fairness and justice” of the high court.

The SC earlier junked her petition questioning the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC) in issuing the warrant for her arrest in February on drug charges filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“There is no other recourse but to go on fighting, especially when one is innocent as I truly am,” De Lima said in a handwritten statement from her detention cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame.

“Every day spent behind bars on bogus charges brings pain and untold sufferings. But it also strengthens resolve,” she added.

The DOJ had filed charges before the Muntinlupa RTC against De Lima for allegedly abetting the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was justice secretary.

De Lima stressed in her petition that the Sandiganbayan should be the one handling her case.

She said she was deeply saddened and pained by the dismissal of her petition and expressed hope that the justices “who decided against my petition can feel the pain of someone who is sent to prison and yet is innocent of any crime, and has merely fallen victim to the strong arm of the State and the President’s deeply rooted vengeance against her.”

For her, the ruling “legitimizes oppression and political persecution.”

De Lima said the SC’s majority decision of 9-6 showed the extent the Duterte administration “has distorted reason, suppressed the truth and rejected the primacy of conscience.”

“I take heart, though, in the thought that six dissenters – all venerable magistrates – stood their ground. I honor them with profound thanks and admiration for their courage and fealty to their sworn duty,” she said, adding that she has no illusions of being freed while President Duterte remains in power.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Tuesday said the SC ruling must be respected.

“They (magistrates) have studied the case more thoroughly than we have,” Pimentel told reporters.

Senators from the minority bloc on Tuesday lamented the decision even as they vowed to press the Senate leadership to ask the courts to allow De Lima to participate in key legislative sessions.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he strongly believes that the Office of the Ombudsman should be the one handling the cases against De Lima.

“But I respect the decision of the Supreme Court. I’m a lawyer and former justice secretary, I disagree but I will respect the SC decision. I assume Senator De Lima will file a motion for reconsideration and I hope the SC can take a close second look at the decision,” Drilon told reporters.

He said that since the voting was close, it was also possible that some justices may change their minds once De Lima files her appeal.

 ‘Abusive prosecution’

International organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) sees the SC ruling as part of Duterte’s “abusive prosecution” of his critics.

“The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday dashed hopes it would overturn the politically motivated prosecution of the highest-profile critic of President Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs’,” HRW Asia Division’s Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement yesterday.

“De Lima, a former justice secretary, has been an outspoken critic of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign that independent non-governmental organizations and media outlets estimate has resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 people over the past 15 months,” he added.

For HRW, the ruling shows the extent of the Duterte administration’s influence.

“Duterte and his government have systematically sought to vilify, harass and intimidate those who have pursued accountability for drug war crimes domestically and internationally... De Lima’s prosecution is a warning to all critics of Duterte’s ‘drug war’ that demanding accountability for victims may spark vicious official reprisals,” Conde said.

The group called on the public to “express their outrage at De Lima’s prosecution and support a United Nations-led international investigation.”

‘Remove 15 inmates from WPP’

Meanwhile, Drilon wants the 15 inmates who testified against De Lima to be removed from the witness protection program (WPP) of the DOJ.

During plenary debates on the proposed 2018 national budget last Tuesday, Drilon raised the legal and ethical issues involved in the continued grant of state-funded benefits to the convicted drug dealers under the WPP.

The DOJ noted that the acceptance of the 15 inmates to the WPP was upon the initiative of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez at the time when the House of Representatives was conducting its inquiry into the proliferation of illegal drugs at the NBP.

In exchange for their testimonies against De Lima, who they accused of being involved in the drug trade within the NBP, the inmates were placed under the WPP and transferred from the national penitentiary to a facility within Camp Aguinaldo.

“These are convicted inmates. You have here a situation where 15 drug dealers are included in the WPP,” Drilon said, clarifying that the Speaker and the Senate President can only recommend admission of an individual to the WPP and the decision to accept this lies with the justice secretary.

The DOJ noted that the inmates qualified for admission to the WPP because they were legislative witnesses.

This, however, was questioned by Drilon since legislative proceedings were concluded for some time already.

“One cannot be a witness forever. Meaning a witness in a case, after the case is terminated, he is discharged from the WPP. The inquiry was terminated a long time ago so why do we still have these witnesses under the WPP?” Drilon said. – With Elizabeth Marcelo, Marvin Sy

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