Calida to SC: De Lima was not 'singled out' in drug charges

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 28) — Solicitor General Jose Calida faced the Supreme Court on Tuesday at the resumption of the oral arguments on the nullification of Senator Leila de Lima's arrest.

He is representing Judge Juanita Guerrero, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge who issued the arrest warrant for De Lima over drug charges.

De Lima's camp had petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify Guerrero's arrest order based on these grounds: 1) Guerrero allegedly acted with undue haste in ordering De Lima's arrest; committing "grave abuse of discretion"; 2) In doing so, Guerrero violated De Lima's constitutional, legal, and procedural rights; and 3) Before ordering the arrest, Guerrero should have first resolved a motion filed by De Lima, asking the judge to quash her drug cases, for "lack of evidence" and "lack of jurisdiction".

In his opening statement, Calida said De Lima was not entitled to any relief from the Court, adding her lawyers had no reason to ask the Supreme Court to exclude her from the rules.

"(De Lima) is not exempt from the principle of heirarchy of courts," Calida said.

He added, the Senator was "forum shopping," going directly to the Supreme Court even when she had a pending motion with to quash with the RTC.

Calida said the RTC has "original and exclusive jurisdiction" under Section 90 of Republic Act 9165 (RA 9165), or The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act ot 2002.

He added, there is "no irreconcilable conflict between RA 9165 and Sandiganbayan Charter, as amended."




Section 90 of RA 9165 states: "The Supreme Court shall designate special courts from among the existing Regional Trial Courts in each judicial region to exclusively try and hear cases involving violations of this Act. The number of courts designated in each judicial region shall be based on the population and the number of cases pending in their respective jurisdiction."

According to Calida, De Lima's petition is premature and asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the Senator's petition and let Guerrero do her job.

This is the third round of oral arguments into the nullification of De Lima's arrest over allegations involving illegal drugs.

Singled out?

Calida told the Justices, the Department of Justice did not single out Senator Leila De Lima when it filed drug charges against her.

Calida had responded to a question from Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who noted that none of the inmates the former Justice Secretary allegedly conspired with are facing charges in court.

Leonen also asked Calida if President Rodrigo Duterte has spoken against De Lima on several occasions. The solicitor general replied there were times when the president was just joking.

Leonen noted the number of times De Lima was the sole subject of President Duterte's statements. He counted a total of 37 on 24 different occasions from August to November  2016 alone.

Leonen told Calida, a judge must make sure the evidence is not hearsay and witnesses should have personal knowledge of what they are testifying about.

Leonen also said, all the affidavits of the inmates-witnesses don't give a clear, coherent picture of the facts in De Lima's case.

He then went on to ask Calida: are there sufficient contradictions in the affidavits that Guerrero should have called the witnesses first?

But Calida noted Guerrero enjoys presumption of regularity in the performance of her duty.

Looking over the same affidavits, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said in all testimonies of the inmate-witnesses, there was not anything that De Lima could have authorized if she weren't Secretary of Justice.

Meaning, De Lima committed the offense in relation to her office - which therefore should have been under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

Calida appealed to the Justices to just let Guerrero to "finish her task."

Burden of proof

During the second round of arguments, Calida said De Lima faked the verification and affidavit portions of her petition.

He said De Lima could not have notarized her petition because no notary public had entered the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center where she was detained.

Calida added the name of the notary public, Maria Cecille Tresvalles-Cabalo, didn't appear on the guest logbook of the detention center.

Read: SolGen asks SC to junk De Lima's 'faked' petition

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, one of De Lima's lawyers, said the petition was notarized at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) headquarters before Senator's detention, and not inside the custodial center.

Despite Hilbay's explanation, Calida presented evidence in the form of four signed affidavits from police officers who said they did not see De Lima sign any document in front of any notary public on Feb. 24, the day she was arrested.

Alex Padilla, another of De Lima's lawyers, the burden of proof falls on Calida to establish that De Lima's petition was faked.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario, Lara Tan, and Pia Garcia contributed to this story.