LP Senators: Cases against De Lima 'illegal'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Liberal Party (LP) Senators are decrying the Justice Department's move to file criminal cases against fellow party member, Senator Leila De Lima, calling the charges against her "patently illegal."

In a joint statement issued Saturday, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon and Bam Aquino said the filing of cases at a regional trial court instead of the Sandiganbayan violated De Lima's right to due process.

The Senators said cases against De Lima should have been filed at the Sandiganbayan and not the RTC, as the alleged crimes were supposedly committed by De Lima while she was still Justice Secretary.

The statement comes after the Department of Justice filed on Friday three criminal complaints against Senator Leila De Lima at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.

The cases stem from her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison while she was still Justice Secretary.

Related: DOJ files 3 drug cases vs. De Lima

The Senators said the Justice Department filed the case at the Muntinlupa RTC to go after De Lima for criticizing the administration.

"It is an underhanded maneuver meant to go after critics, regardless of legal bases or processes," they said.

The Senators added, "Senator De Lima has been pre-judged before any of the charges were filed as no less than the President vowed to destroy her in public and was sure De Lima would land in jail before any case was filed."

The Liberal Party Senators appealed for total impartiality in the impending trial, and called for Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to inhibit from the cases filed against De Lima.

The Senators also said arresting De Lima based on the "trumped-up" charges would be illegal.

"We maintain that if this warrant of arrest is served, it would be a clear violation of legal proceedings and is therefore a violation of her Constitutional right to due process," they said.

Aguirre inhibiting from De Lima cases

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, meanwhile, said he has inhibited from all cases involving Senator Leila De Lima from the start.

In a statement issued Saturday, Aguirre said the LP Senators' calls for him to steer clear of De Lima's cases have no factual basis, as he has not been involved in any of them.

Aguirre said cases against De Lima were not politically driven, but based on evidence of her alleged connections to illegal drugs.

"They are not politically motivated… Drug cases do not involve one's political beliefs. It involves one's choice to be involved in illegal drugs," he said.

He said, the Muntinlupa RTC has jurisdiction on De Lima's cases as the charges were separate from her duties as Justice Secretary.

"Trading in illegal drugs has no connection with the performance of her duties as Secretary of Justice," he said.

He added, "We could recall that Senator de Lima herself and other Secretaries of Justice before her, prosecuted before the RTC several high ranking officials like PGMA, Comm. Benipayo,  Cong. Jalosjos, Com. Abalos, among others."