MANILA — The government’s top counsel on Monday said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has the power to investigate and file drug charges against Senator Leila de Lima.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida cited the DOJ’s case against Senator Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan in 2004, which involved coup d’etat charges against the soldier turned politician for his alleged involvement in the Oakwood mutiny.
According to Calida, the Supreme Court, in the Honasan case, ruled that the Administrative Code gave the DOJ, as the prosecution arm of the government, the power to investigate the commission of crimes, prosecute offenders, and administer the probation and correction system.
“The power of the Ombudsman to investigate the illegal activities of public officials, including Senator De Lima, is concurrent with the power of other government agencies, such as the DOJ,” Calida said in a statement.
“Hence, Senator De Lima is wrong when she said that only the Ombudsman can investigate and charge her for her drug offenses,” he added.
Further, Calida said that Section 90 of R.A. No. 9165 clearly provides that RTCs have the jurisdiction to exclusively try and hear cases involving illegal drug activities.
“Since Senator De Lima is facing drug charges, which has no relation to her office, she should be tried before the regular courts, and not in the Sandiganbayan,” Calida said.
Last Friday, the DOJ filed charges against De Lima for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, or the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), for her involvement in the New Bilbid Prison (NBP) drug trade.
De Lima earlier asked the Court of Appeals to stop the DOJ’s investigation, saying the jurisdiction falls with the Office of the Ombudsman since she is an elected official. However, the Court of Appeals denied her petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which sought to stop the DOJ from investigating drug complaints against her.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Viataliano Aguirre II said that the Muntinlupa RTC has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the three cases filed, regardless of the high position of De Lima as respondent.
”On the matter of jurisdiction, it is the RTC that has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the three cases, regardless of the high position of the respondent. Trading in illegal drugs has no connection with the performance of her duties as Secretary of Justice,” he explained.
DOJ Undersecretary Erickson Balmes on Monday confirmed that Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz, and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon are set to handle the cases against De Lima, who was charged for violation of Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 3 (jj); Section 26 (b), and Section 28 (criminal liability of government officials and employees) of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Based on court procedures, the judges need to determine first if there is probable cause to issue warrants of arrest against the accused. There is no motion filed yet to consolidate the three cases.
Apart from De Lima, those named as co-accused are her former lover and driver Ronnie Dayan and her nephew Jose Adrian Dera, each facing two counts.
Her other co-accused charged with one count each are former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Franklin Jesus Bucayu; Bucayu’s alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli; high-profile Bilibid inmate Jaybee Sebastian; National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Deputy Director Rafael Ragos; and de Lima’s former aide Joenel Sanchez.
The charges were filed after the DOJ panel of prosecutors also issued a 52-page resolution dated February 14 on the consolidated criminal complaints filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); the NBI; former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Rule Lasala; and high-profile Bilibid inmate and self-confessed drug trader Jaybee Sebastian.
According to Aguirre, the arrest warrants could be released if the judge who will handle the cases determines that there is probable cause to proceed with the arraignment. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/PNA-northboundasia.com