DOJ to conduct preliminary investigation on VACC drug trafficking raps vs. De Lima, 7 others

MANILA — Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday confirmed that the agency will conduct a preliminary investigation on the drug trafficking charges filed by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) against former DOJ Secretary and now Senator Leila De Lima and seven other persons.

”We will conduct the preliminary investigation may jurisdiction diyan ay DOJ we have the obligation to conduct the preliminary investigation,” Aguirre said in press conference held at the DOJ main office in Manila.

Aguirre made the statement after De Lima said that the case should have been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, the agency mandated to investigate and prosecute erring government officials and employees, and not at the DOJ.

“The DOJ has concurrent jurisdiction with the Ombudsman to hear in preliminary investigation cases filed against government officials that are cognizable by the Sandiganbayan,” he explained.

Aguirre also assured that prosecutors would be fair in resolving the criminal charges against his predecessor in the department and seven others – just as the DOJ handled pork barrel scam cases during De Lima’s time.

“Noong siya ang Secretary of Justice ganoon din naman ang ginagawa niya. Iyung mga kaso na cognizable by the Sandiganbayan o sinasabi niyang dapat sa Ombudsman inihahain, diyan din hinahain sa DOJ muna,” he said.

” Ngayong andito na, ayaw nya ditto. Hindi mo malaman kay sec De Lima yung lookout bulletin ginawa nya yan kay GMA (Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) bumalik sa kanya,” he told reporters.

On Tuesday, the VACC filed before the DOJ charges of violation of Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) against De Lima, accusing her of conspiring with several former officials and high-profile inmates in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in order to profit from the illegal drug trade inside the prison facility during her stint as DOJ secretary.

Citing testimonies of witnesses in the House of Representatives inquiry on proliferation of illegal drugs in NBP, the anti-crime watchdog said De Lima “through her authority as the Secretary of Justice was able to put in position her cohorts at the BuCor (Bureau of Corrections) to enable her to maneuver the drug trade.”

Also named respondents in the complaint were former DOJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, De Lima’s former aides Ronnie Dayan, Joenel Sanchez and Jose Adrian Dera, Bucayu’s alleged bagman Wilfredo Ely and high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian.

The respondents were specifically charged with violation of Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 26 (b) (conspiracy) of R.A. 9165.

The said offenses involve penalties of life imprisonment and a fine ranging from PHP500,000 to PHP10 million upon conviction after trial in court.

Meanwhile, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, VACC counsel, agreed with this opinion of the Justice Secretary, stressing that De Lima’s statement only shows her desperation and lack of knowledge of legal processes.

“She seems ignorant of the fact that in the case of Honasan v. Panel of Prosecutors (G.R. No. 159747, 13 April 2004), the Supreme Court has held that the DOJ has concurrent jurisdiction in recognizing cases against public officers involving violations of penal laws. In simple terms, for the benefit of Sen. De Lima, it means that a case against her may be validly and properly filed before the DOJ,’ Topacio said in a statement.

He said De Lima might be banking on the memorandum of agreement executed last March 29, 2012 wherein the DOJ allowed the Ombudsman to have jurisdiction over certain criminal complaints but he explained such agreement cannot supersede Section 15 (1) of Republic Act 6770 ((the Ombudsman Act) which did not grant or vest exclusive jurisdiction to the Ombudsman over cases involving public officials and likewise did not divest the DOJ of its general jurisdiction to conduct preliminary investigation of cases.

“This MOA is illegal and void and I accuse Sen. De Lima and the current Ombudsman of formulating the said MOA to protect the political allies of then President Aquino by restricting the jurisdiction of the DOJ and transferring it exclusively to the Ombudsman. Jurisdiction is conferred by law and cannot be the subject of an agreement,” he added. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/