‘Conflict of interest’: De Lima petitions SC to have Justice Velasco recused from her case

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Senator Leila de Lima talks to reporters on her way to her arraignment in Muntinlupa City. (file image from News5 video)

MANILA – Detained Sen. Leila de Lima is seeking the inhibition of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco from the high court’s deliberations of her petition seeking to strike down the Justice department’s complaints that she had always maintained were illegal.

De Lima’s basis for wanting Velasco recused: the magistrate was the ponente in the senator’s earlier petition questioning the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court in her drug case.

The senator also said Velasco had a conflict of interest in playing any role in her cases, and thus cannot be expected to be impartial.

In her motion for inhibition filed Thursday with the SC, de Lima said that in 2009, Velasco favored the acquittal of drug lord German Agojo, who has subsequently been used as a witness against de Lima. He claimed that de Lima as then Justice secretary ordered him to sell drugs from prison.

De Lima based her allegation on an investigative report by journalist Marites Vitug, which also cited Velasco as having pushed for the acquittal of Agojo.

Velasco was also suspected of being the one who leaked deliberations of the Agojo case, which triggered a slew of death threats against some magistrates, like now-retired Justice
Arturo Brion.

Voltaire Rosales, the Batangas RTC judge who convicted Agojo, was assassinated.

Brion had the threats against him investigated, and when de Lima assumed the DOJ post, she had an investigation done on the matter as well.

According to de Lima, Agojo is not just a witness, but a complainant against her.

Agojo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and son Renz Agojo also filed charges against de Lima.

De Lima stressed that due process and fairness and neutrality are important values in a magistrate, and when there is suspicion of lack of these in a judge, the latter must inhibit himself whether or not there is basis for the suspicion.

If Velasco does not recuse himself, the credibility of the SC ruling on her case will suffer, the senator said.