No valid reason to inhibit, transfer cases vs De Lima to Ombudsman — Aguirre

MANILA — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday said that there is no valid reason for him and the agency’s prosecutors to inhibit from hearing the four cases against Senator Leila de Lima and transfer these to the Office of the Ombudsman.

”(There is ) No valid reason at all to transfer the cases to the Ombudsman. I already inhibited myself a long time ago. The respondents should not be allowed to choose their investigators, and engaged in forum shopping,” Aguirre said.

Earlier, Aguirre said he will no longer interfere after signing a Department Order consolidating the four cases against De Lima so as not to undermine the independence of the five-man committee.

The panel is headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong. Other prosecutors in the team are Senior Assistant City Prosecutor (SACP) Alexander P. Ramos, SACP Leila R. Llanes, SACP Evangeline P. Viudez-Canobas, and Assistant State Prosecutor Editha C. Fernandez.

Aguirre said the DOJ consolidated the four complaints filed against De Lima and 17 others, including former government officials and inmates for their alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

The four drug complaints filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala; high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian; and the NBI due to the senator’s alleged violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act.

”The DOJ is just performing its function of investigating criminal complaints against her and co-accused. We are considering her cases as ordinary complaints. She was always acting as if she is someone special and above the law,” Aguirre said earlier.

In filing her omnibus motion, De Lima asked the DOJ to refer the four cases to the Office of the Ombudsman, which she maintained impartiality to investigate the charges against her.

De Lima, a former Justice Secretary, said that this would also allow “an objective and independent investigation on said cases.”

She explained that the charges leveled against her as a public official fall within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Ombudsman according to the 1989 Ombudsman Act.

“The importance of an independent and impartial investigation, forming part as it is of the fundamental right to due process, cannot be overemphasized,” she said.

”Her standard defense is that DOJ is manufacturing evidence against her in all four where she is being accused as the Drug Protector. Yet, she has not presented any iota of evidence to prove her accusation!,” he added.

The five-man panel headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong started the preliminary investigation on the case last Dec. 2 to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of case against De Lima and several other respondents.

Seven respondents namely: former Bureau of Corrections Chair Rainier G. Cruz; Ronnie Dayan, the former driver and lover of Senator De Lima; Julius Rejuso, alleged bagman of former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan; and the high profile inmates Jaybee Sebastian, Vicente Sy, Wu Tuan Yuan alias Peter Co, and Jojo Baliga failed to appear or sent a representative before the DoJ.

The rest of the respondents including Senator De Lima has a representative and lawyer to receive the complaints.

Romeo Siazon, staff of De Lima, arrived late carrying a letter addressed to the panel of prosecutors authorizing him to obtain copies of the complaints and supporting evidence in the subpoena issued last Nov. 21 by the panel.

Ong told the respective lawyers of the respondents to submit their response to the complaints on the hearing of the case set on Dec. 21 at 2:00 p.m.

He said that on Dec. 21, all respondents, including De Lima are required to appear personally before the DoJ to submit their counter-affidavits except for the Bilibid inmates.

Ong said Bilibid inmates including Herbert Colanggo will submit their affidavits at the Intelligence Service Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

It was President Rodrigo R. Duterte who first exposed de Lima as having a hand in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the NBP when she was then Justice Secretary.

The senator, however, has repeatedly denied the allegations claiming that it was part of a demolition job against her. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/