4 years into trial, another judge inhibits from De Lima drug case
In this photo taken February 23, 2021, Sen. Leila De Lima attends the trial of the third drug case she is facing at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256.
Office of Sen. Leila De Lima/release

4 years into trial, another judge inhibits from De Lima drug case

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 14, 2021 - 5:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — Another judge has inhibited from handling the drug case against Sen. Leila De Lima, upon the lawmaker's own motion.

Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan granted De Lima’s motion for reconsideration on a ruling where she initially denied her motion for voluntary inhibition.

“The Presiding Judge hereby voluntarily recuses herself from further hearing the instant case. Let the records of this case be forwarded to the Office of the Clerk of Court for re-raffle,” the order dated June 14 read.

Aquitan is the same judge who acquitted De Lima in one of three drug cases against her last month. However, she also denied De Lima's demurrer to evidence, or motion for dismissal due to insufficient evidence, in another case where the senator's former aide Ronnie Dayan stands as co-accused.

According to De Lima’s office, Aquiatan is the fifth judge who has handled and then voluntarily inhibited from De Lima’s case. Two other judges handling her cases opted for early retirement.

The prosecution moved to oppose De Lima’s appeal on the denial of her earlier motion for inhibition, saying that it is "another attempt to delay the trial of the case."

More than four years since the three cases were filed in court, one has been dismissed upon De Lima’s demurrer to evidence. Two others remain pending in separate courts. The Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 is currently holding hearings on the defense’s presentation of evidence.

In her latest order, Aquiatan granted De Lima’s motion for reconsideration, where the senator accused the judge of “not [considering] the entire records of the case at the precise time she was tasked to resolve the Demurrer to Evidence and completely ignored her unopposed Motion for Bail Ad Cautelam in the Omnibus Order dated February 17, 2021.”

In resolving the motion for reconsideration, the court noted that De Lima is “adamant” that Aquiatan had already prejudged the case against her and insisted that judge lost the appearance of impartiality.

The court however asserted that the Aquiatan is “merely performing her sworn duty to observe and follow court proceedings and an inhibition in this present case, which is based on unfounded grounds, amounts to an abdication of responsibility.”

But Aquiatan said that upon reflection, she will move to recuse herself from the case.

“The Presiding Judge is thus convinced that the persistence of accused De Lima, which was later on joined by accused Dayan, is a just cause or valid ground to voluntarily inhibit in the instant in the instant case in order to dissuade any suspicion or partiality and to protect the interest of the judiciary where she belongs. If not granted, it will only create a hostile environment,” the order further read.

De Lima is facing a third drug case pending before Muntinlupa RTC Branch 265.

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