DOJ wants De Lima lawyers cited in contempt for talking about trial
Kristine Joy Patag ( - November 11, 2020 - 3:02pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice is set to file a petition to cite in contempt the lawyers of Sen. Leila De Lima for publicly discussing the trial proceedings.

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said De Lima’s lawyers are doing something contemptuous as it violates the sub judice (before a judge or court) rule.

"You are not supposed to discuss the merits of the case outside of the courts. That is not allowed," Malcontento said in a mix of English and Filipino. He added that they will file the petition by next week.

De Lima’s trial has entered its fourth year, and the recent hearings saw government investigators and New Bilibid Prison inmates taking the witness stand for the prosecution, according to statements from the senator’s office.

Reporters were allowed to cover the in-court trial before the pandemic. The Supreme Court in October allowed public access to online trial court hearings, subject to the discretion of the judge.

In at least past three hearings, De Lima lawyer Filibon Tacardon said, an Anti-Money Laundering Council investigator and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency forensic examiner testified that they found no suspicious transactions between the senator and drug convicts.

Last week, Tacardon said convict Vicente Sy recanted his testimony that he gave money to help fund De Lima’s senatorial campaign.

RELATED: Saying evidence against her is weak, De Lima seeks provisional liberty | De Lima moves for bail in second drug case

Malcontento asserted that prosecution witnesses did not recant their testimony against De Lima. “What happened was, the short answer of the witness, that is what is picked up and discussed by the media, but not the entire testimony,” he said.

“Now, it is not fair because we have to respect the independence of our courts. We will not engage in that kind of thing,” he added.

DOJ policy: Do not engage

Malcontento also said that they are following a policy from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that they will only engage in the battle in courts, and not in the media.

Guevarra also asserted it has long been the policy of the DOJ to not discuss the merits of a case pending in court.

In a separate message to reporters, Guevarra added he asked prosecutors to “consider filing of petitions to cite for contempt certain persons who knowingly make comments or render opinions on the probative value of evidence being presented to court, with clear intent to influence the judge’s appreciation of the evidence.”

De Lima has been in detention since February 2017 over the drug cases against her. She has since moved for the grant of bail in two cases pending before the Muntinlupa courts.

She also moved for the dismissal of the disobedience to summons case at the Quezon City court.

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