CA reverses dismissal of De Lima cases vs Aguirre, Guevarra

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
CA reverses dismissal of De Lima cases vs Aguirre, Guevarra
Former senator Leila de Lima raises her hand as she shouted "I'm free" upon her release from the custodial facility in Camp Crame, Quezon City on November 13, 2023.
STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed for lack of due process the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal of former senator Leila de Lima’s complaints against former justice secretaries Vitaliano Aguirre and Menardo Guevarra over the use of convicted criminals as state witnesses in her drug cases.

In its decision, the CA Special 17th Division said that the ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the administrative complaint “outright based on inapplicable exceptions.”

“There was no valid reason for the Ombudsman to have refused to conduct an investigation on the administrative charges. Its unjustified refusal is contrary to its mandate under the law and cannot be tolerated,” the appellate court said.

“In dismissing the administrative complaint outright based on inapplicable exceptions under Section 20 of Republic Act 6770, the Ombudsman clearly deviated from its own rules of procedure, which is a violation of procedural due process,” it added.

The CA said the ombudsman, instead of dismissing the cases outright, should have furnished the respondents with a copy of De Lima’s complaint-affidavit and ordered them to file their counter-affidavit and evidence.

The decision was written by Associate Justice Raymond Reynold Lauigan with the concurrence of Associate Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr. and Eleuterio Bathan.

In her criminal and administrative complaints, De Lima accused Aguirre of dereliction of duty and graft for allowing inmates to testify against her and admitting them to the government’s witness protection program.

She also said that both Aguirre and Solicitor General Guevarra gave “unwarranted benefits” to the inmates and failed to prosecute them despite confessing to their involvement in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.

The inmates’ testimonies led to the drug charges filed against De Lima in 2017.

Four inmates would later express their intentions to recant their allegations in the remaining drug case against De Lima.

On Oct. 16, two state witnesses – Maj. Rodolfo Magleo and Sgt. Nonilo Arile – in her last drug case recanted their testimonies as “they are bothered by their conscience.”

The CA clarified that it could only act on the administrative complaint filed by De Lima since the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the criminal complaint should be challenged before the Supreme Court (SC).

With the CA favoring her, De Lima said it is proof that “the wheels of justice continue to turn.”

“I expect the Ombudsman to now conduct a full investigation of both Aguirre and Guevarra or, at the very least, to require Guevarra to answer the administrative aspect of the case and defend his role in propping up criminal convicts as state witnesses even if they are disqualified from being granted immunity under the law,” she said in a statement yesterday.

She also expressed hope that the SC will decide in her favor over the ombudsman’s dismissal of the criminal complaint.

De Lima was recently allowed to post P300,000 bail after spending nearly seven years in jail.

She is facing her third and last drug case after being cleared in her first drug charge in February 2021 and second case last May.

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