SC orders Muntinlupa RTC Judge, PNP to comment De Lima’s petition on legality of arrest

MANILA -– The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the respondents to file a comment on the petition filed by detained Senator Leila De Lima questioning the legality of her arrest in connection with the drug charges filed against her.

SC spokesman Theodore Te said the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.

The SC deferred ruling on De Lima’s pleas for issuance of temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the proceedings in the drug cases against her and status quo ante order on the arrest warrant issued last week by Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 204 that would allow her release from detention.

Te said respondents Muntinlupa City RTC Judge Juanita Guerrero and the Philippine National Police (PNP), are given a non-extendible period of 10 days or until March 10 to answer the petition while the oral arguments are set on March 14 (Tuesday) at 2 p.m.

In an 81-page petition for certiorari with prayers for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and or a temporary restraining order, De Lima through her lawyers asked the high court to set aside the arrest warrant issued last week by Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Guerrero and to stop her from conducting further proceedings.

De Lima also asked the SC to issue a status quo ante order aimed at restoring the status prior to the issuance of the arrest warrant.

In asking the SC to nullify the arrest warrant, De Lima said Guerrero “acted with undue haste and inordinate interest” since she has yet to resolve nor even hear the motion to quash filed by her lawyer after the DOJ filed the case against her.

The court set the hearing on the said motion on February 24, a day before the arrest warrant was issued.

“Haste, when unduly applied in the context of the criminal justice system, such that it constitutes a blatant failure to respect and uphold a person’s fundamental rights, and to observe the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution to protect the rights of the accused, it results in something far more destructive, more pestilent and graver than mere imperfection,” the petition said.

“Definitely, aggrieved with the acts and omissions of Judge Guerrero, which grossly violated her substantive and procedural rights, that amounted to grave abuse of discretion on the part of respondent judge, petitioner files this petition for certiorari and prohibition under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure,” it added.

De Lima, however, stressed only the Office of the Ombudsman has the jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation of the case and not the DOJ panel of prosecutors and that only the Sandiganbayan — not the RTC — has the same jurisdiction over the offense she was accused to have allegedly committed when she was still the DOJ chief during the previous administration.

The lady senator further said Guerrero’s issuance of the arrest warrant and commitment order did not follow the constitutional requirements and procedural rules.

De Lima said even a casual reading of the one paragraph arrest order will reveal that the judge did not rely on the required documents to make a personal determination of probable cause adding that the documents should have been the report of the DOJ panel and the evidence submitted by the said panel to the court and not the information and the evidence presented at the DOJ during the preliminary investigation.

Her motion to quash and motion of judicial determination of probable cause were filed arguing that it is the Ombudsman and eventually Sandiganbayan and not the court that has jurisdiction over her case.

The motion also argued that there is not enough evidence to prove the allegation of illegal drug trade and that the motions has to be resolved first by the court.

Despite the senator’s pending motion, Guerrero issued the arrest order against De Lima on February 23.

De Lima, now detained at the PNP custodial center, argued that the allegations against her do not actually constitute sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act), but rather only direct bribery.

Under the law, petitioner stressed that such charges should fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan — not the RTC — because her position at that time was Secretary of Justice which has salary grade higher than 27.

Aside from De Lima, her former driver and boyfriend Ronnie Dayan, and former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos were included in the arrest warrant issued by Judge Guerrero.

Ragos, also a former NBI deputy director, was detained under the custody of the NBI detention facility in Manila while Dayan was placed in the custody of the Muntinlupa City Jail.

Separate cases for three counts of drug trafficking were filed against De Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC which were assigned to three different courts.

The cases for sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were assigned to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.

The first case in Branch 204 includes De Lima, Dayan and Ragos.

De Lima was joined by her nephew Jose Adrian Dera in the second case in Branch 205.

The third case in Branch 206 was against De Lima, Dera, Dayan, former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, his alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, and De Lima’s former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/