Co-defendants in De Lima’s last drug case ask judge to inhibit

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Co-defendants in De Lima�s last drug case ask judge to inhibit
Former Sen. Leila de Lima inside the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice as she attends the promulgation on one of two remaining drug cases against her on May 12, 2023.
Contributed photo

MANILA, Philippines — Leila de Lima’s fellow defendants in the last illegal drugs case against her have asked the judge handling it to recuse as they said he is the brother of a lawyer who helped Ronnie Dayan, the former senator’s aide, execute an affidavit that he has now recanted.

In separate motions before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256, De Lima’s former aides Dayan and Joenel Sanchez and former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Jesus Bucayu asked Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura to inhibit as he is said to be lawyer of Emmanuel Buenaventura’s brother.

The three said Atty. Buenaventura was a lawyer for former Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who was then the chairperson of the House of Representatives’ justice panel when it was conducting hearings on the alleged drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison that supposedly involved De Lima.

Dayan and Bucayu cited a November 25, 2016 interview on CNN Philippines with Atty. Buenaventura where he admitted that he helped Dayan prepare his affidavit that he later walked back on.

De Lima’s fellow defendants said Judge Buenaventura never disclosed his relationship with Atty. Buenaventura, when Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court states that no judge can sit in a case where they are related by blood or by law to lawyers up to the fourth degree.

‘Conflict of interest’

They added that Judge Buenaventura’s failure to disclose this is a violation of their constitutional right to due process.

“There is a clear conflict of interest on the part of the Honorable Presiding Judge in trying the instant case,” Dayan said in his motion. “Henceforth, the Honorable Presiding Judge committed gross negligence, if not gross misconduct, in not declaring that fact that he is the brother of Atty. Emmanuel S. Buenaventura.”

Meanwhile, Bucayu said: “The Honorable Presiding Judge was clearly afflicted from the very onset, at the very least, with a clear conflict of interest from handling the instant case.”

“The Honorable Presiding Judge should have voluntarily inhibited himself from handling the case or at the very least, should have disclosed these facts to the accused and their counsels, and inquired from them whether or not they will be comfortable if he will continue to handle the case,” he continued.

Bucayu added that Judge Buenaventura appeared to have prejudged the case by denying bail for the accused “so clearly one-sided and so obviously biased” as it took the prosecution’s narrative as if it were “bible truth.”

“The Honorable Presiding Judge, in the eyes of herein accused, has virtually and already blindly convicted all of the accused in the case, only short of writing the dispositive portion of the decision in the case declaring their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and has inextricably committed himself to this path,” Bucayu said.

‘Evidence of guilt was strong’

Judge Buenaventura denied last week the application for bail by De Lima, Sanchez, Bucayu, Dayan and the former senator’s alleged bagman, Jose Adrian Dera, as he ruled that the evidence of their guilt was strong.

With this denial from the Muntinlupa court, De Lima will remain in detention during the trial of her last drug case, although her lawyers said they will appeal the bail decision.

In this specific case, De Lima faces the same conspiracy to commit drug trading charge along with six others.

The former lawmaker won in her first case when she challenged the sufficiency of prosecution evidence against her.

She won her second case on the ground of reasonable doubt—this was after the star prosecution witness recanted his testimony against her and admitted he was pressured to make false allegations. But the Department of Justice has already asked the separate Muntinlupa court to reconsider its ruling that cleared De Lima.

De Lima earned former President Rodrigo Duterte's ire for her investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in his administration's "war on drugs," which is now the subject of an International Criminal Court investigation.

State prosecutors initially charged De Lima with drug trading, but they later amended it to accuse the senator of conspiracy to commit drug trading inside Bilibid. De Lima supposedly benefitted from illegal drug trading when she was justice secretary.

Her cases, alongside those against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, have gained international attention. Calls from abroad for the cases to be dismissed have been rejected as meddling in domestic issues. — with Kristine Joy Patag

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