MANILA, Philippines — The Justice secretary on Friday defended the decision of the department’s panel of prosecutors to file the cases against Sen. Leila De Lima before a regional trial court instead of the Ombudsman.
In a press conference, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also defended the decision of the five-man prosecution panel of the DOJ to file on Friday afternoon the three cases against De Lima before the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa.
“These are not cognizable by the Sandiganbayan, and this is the reason why this is filed before the civil courts,” he said. He added: “These cases belong to the exclusive original jurisdiction of the regional trial court.”
“Wala pong jurisdiction ditto ang Sandiganbayan kaya’t it is but right and proper that it be filed before the regional trial court,” the justice secretary said.
De Lima is facing three charges in connection to allegations that he protected the illegal drugs trade at the National Bilibid Prisons in exchange for money during her time as justice secretary.
She is accused of violating section five of the Dangerous Drugs Act that prohibits the sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.
He also defended himself from accusations that he expedited the filing of these cases. He said that the panel of prosecutors thoroughly studied the cases before they decided to file and dismiss them.
“Makikita po ninyo dito sa ginawang resolutiong ng NBI na ito po'y talagang pinag-aralan,” he said.
“Kung ito po'y katulad ng sinasabi ng respondent na ito'y pulitika lamang ay hindi po. Kung pulitika lamang bakit hindi natin dinemanda si Baraan? Isang Usec ang alam niyang kasama-sama. Pero kulang po sa ebidensya,” Aguirre said.
He also said that the cases against the senator are strong. He said that his prosecutors would not file them in the first place if they didn’t believe that there is a high probability of getting a conviction.
Aguirre also said that the lookout bulletin on De Lima would remain standing. He said that it will be up to the court if it would issue a hold-departure order against the senator.
Early this week, De Lima said that she is prepared for the “worst-case case scenario” regarding the cases the DOJ was preparing against her.
She hinted that her looming arrest was part of the wishes of President Rodrigo Duterte to jail her. De Lima is one of the fiercest critics of Duterte’s vaunted anti-drugs campaign.
De Lima also expressed fears for her safety if she was jailed, saying that she hoped that she would be placed in a safe and secure place in the event that she’s arrested because of the cases she’s facing.
“Ang pakiusap ko lang po, sakaling may mangyari na, God forbid, yung eventuality na yan, ay sana ilagay naman ako sa isang lugar na magiging safe and secure ako,” she said in an interview.
Aguirre allayed De Lima’s fears and gave her “99 percent” assurance that she would not be harmed while in jail.