SC justices to SolGen: Is De Lima being singled out by Duterte?

MANILA — Is Sen. Leila De Lima being singled out by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte?

Three Supreme Court justices raised this question during the third part of the oral arguments on the petition filed by De Lima, which sought to nullify the findings of probable cause and the issuance of the order of arrest by the Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204.

During the interpellation, Justice Mariano del Castillo noted that, of all the people tagged in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilbid Prison (NBP), only three had been charged and ordered arrested by the Muntinlupa RTC. Besides De Lima, there was Rafael Ragos, former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation and officer in charge of the Bureau of Corrections, and Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former driver and boyfriend.

“The only respondents left in this case is De Lima, Dayan, Ragos – and all others who actually traded drugs inside Bilibid are no longer accused in this case,” Del Castillo said.

In a resolution, the Department of Justice excluded six convicts from the cases filed in Muntinlupa so that they could serve as witnesses for the government. These are Herbert Colanggo, Engelberto Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, Wu Tuan Yuan (also known as Peter Co), and Nonilo Arile.

“Can you respond to that allegation that this case is persecution, not prosecution,” Del Castillo told Solicitor General Jose Calida..
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen raised the same question.

Leonen said the convicts, though not qualified to be admitted under the Witness Protection Program (WPP), were excluded in the charge sheet.

“Would you say that there is singling out of the accused?” he said.
“Isn’t this an indicator that there is a singling out of one person…the segregation of others who should have been included in the case.”
Calida replied: “I do not think so.”

The lead government counsel pointed out that De Lima should suffer the consequences for choosing to deal with the convicts.

On the other hand, Sereno said: “I am interested in the issue raised by Justice Leonen of whether in fact this is a common criminal prosecution or has reached a persecution component.”

Leonen also noted 37 pronouncements made by Duterte against De Lima.
“We have a president who says what he means and means what he says, do you agree?” Leonen asked Calida, who said yes.

“Only Senator De Lima was the subject of these statements and not the others in the thick list involved in narco-politics,” Leonen said.
But Calida countered that Duterte would sometimes crack jokes in his speeches.

Leonen asked if the case against De Lima was the priority of the Duterte administration.

“The priority of this administration is to curb and curtail drug cases in the Philippines,” Calida said.

Calida added that there would be more to follow De Lima’s footsteps as the government continued its aggressive crackdown against government officials involved in illegal drugs.

He pointed out that De Lima should not entitled to special treatment from the Supreme Court.

“Senator De Lima’s case is only one of the tens of thousands of drug-related cases now being handled by 955 branches of the Regional Trial Court,” Calida said. “There is nothing remarkable about this case except for her insistence that she be treated above the law. So my plea on behalf of the people: Kindly dismiss the petition and let Judge Guerrero finish her task.”

At one point, Calida reminded the justices of what he called De Lima’s arrogance when she still the DOJ chief. Back then, Calida said De Lima refused to follow an injunction issued by the high court allowing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country to seek medical treatment in 2011.

Calida also insisted that the Muntinlupa RTC has jurisdiction over the case under Section 90 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act – contrary to de Lima’s assertion that it should be heard by the Sandiganbayan.

He said the anti-graft court had never tried drug-related cases before, since RA 9165 made it clear that RTCs should have jurisdiction over such cases.

The high court has wrapped up the oral argument. It ordered both parties to submit their respective memoranda within 20 days and then the case would be submitted for decision.