(UPDATE 5 – 4:24 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Voting 9-6, the Supreme Court en banc dismissed for lack of merit Sen. Leila de Lima’s plea for the high tribunal to recall the arrest warrant issued against her by a Muntinlupa court on February 23, 2017, SC spokesperson Theodore Te announced Wednesday.
Also, the high court thumbed down the senator’s prayer to dismiss the illegal drug charges filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The nine associate justices who voted against De Lima’s petition (G.R. No. 229781 — Senator Leila De Lima v. Hon. Juanita Guerrero, in her capacity as the Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa, Branch 204, et al.), are composed of five appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and four appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte. They are:
-Presbitero Velasco Jr. (appointed by Arroyo)
-Teresita Leonardo-De Castro (appointed by Arroyo)
-Diosdado Peralta (appointed by Arroyo)
-Lucas Bersamin (appointed by Arroyo)
-Mariano del Castillo (appointed by Arroyo)
-Samuel Martires (appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte)
-Noel Tijam (appointed by Duterte)
-Andres Reyes (appointed by Duterte)
-Alexander Gesmundo (appointed by Duterte)
The six magistrates who dissented from the main ruling are composed of five appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III and an appointee of Arroyo. They are:
-Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (appointed by Aquino)
-Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (appointed by Arroyo)
-Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe (appointed by Aquino)
-Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa (appointed by Aquino)
-Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza (appointed by Aquino)
-Associate Justice Marvic Leonen (appointed by Aquino)
‘Judge didn’t abuse discretion’
In its ruling, the high court said Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 “did not gravely abuse her discretion in finding probable cause to order (De Lima’s) arrest.”
The high tribunal said it “disagreed” with De Lima’s “assertion that respondent judge did not personally determine probable cause for the issuance of the warrant of arrest simply because the judge relied on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation and not on the report and supporting documents submitted by the prosecution.”
“The Court noted that respondent judge considered all the evidence presented at the preliminary investigation and not simply the report and the supporting evidence the prosecution proposed to present at the trial, which was based on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation,” it said.
“It cannot be said that the respondent judge was remiss in her duty to determine probable cause personally,” the court added.
RTC, not Sandigan, has jurisdiction over De Lima case
Also, according to the the high court, the regional trial court and not the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over De Lima’s case.
The senator’s camp earlier argued that the case filed against De Lima constituted direct bribery offense and thus must be heard by the anti-graft court. But the high tribunal said that the allegations in the charges filed against the lawmaker “are sufficient to characterize the offense as a violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act” or Republic Act 9165.
“For this reason, the Court pointed out that RA 9165 specified only one court with jurisdiction to try offenses under the law, the Regional Trial Court,” the high tribunal said.
Moreover, the high court noted that “the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC over violations of RA 9165 is not transferred to the Sandiganbayan whenever the accused occupies a position classified as Grade 27 or higher, regardless of whether the violation is alleged to have been committed in relation to the office being occupied.”
“The Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is limited to violations of the anti-graft laws and do not extend to violations of the drugs law,” it added.
DOJ chief, Solgen laud SC ruling
DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said, “I think that’s a correct decision. It’s the decision we have been fighting for. Tama lang [It’s only correct] that our position that the RTC has jurisdiction has been vindicated.”
“The arraignment could proceed. Assuming that there would be no motion to make amendment to the information, trial will proceed,” added Aguirre.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the high court’s “landmark” ruling on De Lima’s case “enthrones the majesty of the law, which is no respecter of men and women however privileged they are.”
“This decision further negates the erroneous perception that the government’s war against drugs is waged only against the unlettered and the underprivileged,” Calida further said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Let me express my deepest gratitude to the learned Supreme Court who penned the decision that will be entrenched in our jurisprudence,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party (LP) said it “regret(ted) the decision of the Supreme Court dismissing the petition of Senator Leila De Lima to transfer her case to the Office of the Ombudsman from the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.”
“We understand that her camp will file a motion for reconsideration, and we trust that the magistrates will give the case a thorough second look and decide based on what is just and right,” the LP said.
“The issue of jurisdiction is at the heart of the case because it involves the legal authority to pass judgment on a case. We cannot have the wrong court trying and handing the fate of a case,” the party said.
“Again, we express full faith that our Justices will be convinced that freeing Senator De Lima is the correct and just way forward,” it added.