MANILA –The government’s top counsel on Monday said that Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing a warrant of arrest against Senator Leila De Lima in connection the drug charges filed against her.
“The judge shall issue a warrant of arrest if she finds probable cause after personally evaluating the resolution of the prosecutor and its supporting evidence. This is clearly set forth in Rule 112, Section 6 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. Nowhere in the rules does it require the judge to personally examine witnesses in the form of searching questions and answers for the purpose of issuing the warrant of arrest,” Solicitor General Jose C. Calida explained during the press conference held in Makati City.
“There is no truth to the allegation that the warrant of arrest was issued prematurely,” he added.
Last week, a warrant was issued by Judge Guerrero for the arrest of De Lima, Ronnie Dayan, and Rafael Ragos in connection with the drug case against them.
De Lima’s lawyers maintain that there is no sufficient evidence to prove the allegation of illegal drug trade against De Lima. Moreover, they claim that the issuance of the warrant of arrest was premature as the judge should have personally gone over the records of the case before determining whether an arrest warrant may issue.
The trial judge, on her part, said that she personally studied the records of the case to determine whether there was probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest.
According to Calida, a preliminary investigation is an inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient ground to create a logical belief that a crime has been committed, and that the accused is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial.
“This determination of probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest should precede the resolution of Senator De Lima’s motion to quash the information. A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not a crime was committed by the accused. It need not be based on evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Calida explained.
“In Senator De Lima’s case, she did not show up at her preliminary investigation. Although her presence is not mandatory, she did not adduce any evidence on her behalf. Not even a counter-affidavit to refute the allegations against her was filed. She just sent her lawyer to question the jurisdiction of the prosecution panel,” he said.
“As a former Secretary of Justice and now senator, she should follow the law and the rules of court. No one is above the law, not even Senator De Lima,” he added.
Calida further explained that the issuance of a warrant is necessary to acquire jurisdiction over the person of Senator De Lima.
“It should be noted that a motion to quash seeks for an affirmative relief. How can she seek an affirmative relief from the court when the court has no jurisdiction over her person?” he asked.
“In this case, the judge did not act arbitrarily when she issued the warrant of arrest against Senator De Lima,” Calida opined.
Calida earlier said that De Lima should be tried before the RTC and not in the Sandiganbayan, citing Section 90 of R.A. No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which provides that RTCs have exclusive jurisdiction to try and hear cases involving illegal drug activities.
On Monday, filed an 82-page petition before the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the legality of her arrest.
In a press conference before the petition was filed, De Lima’s chief-of-staff, lawyer Philip Sawali, said the petition is a status quo ante order (SQAO) meant “to question the legality of the arrest order, arrest warrant and commitment order of Judge Juanita Guerrero of Branch 204 of Muntinlupa RTC (Regional Trial Court).”
Sawali said that De Lima raised three questions in her petition: (1) How Guerrero issued an arrest order immediately when there is still a pending motion to quash (2) Why the arrest order and arrest warrant did not follow procedural rules (3) How Guerrero determined probable cause when there is no allegation of crime.
In her petition, De Lima argued that Guerrero committed “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when she issued the order and the arrest warrant.” She said Guerrero’s acts violated her constitutional, legal and procedural rights.
De Lima said Guerrero also “acted with undue haste and inordinate interest” as her motion to quash, which she filed last February 20 has yet to be heard.
“Haste, when unduly applied in the context of the criminal justice system, such that it constitutes a blatant failure to respect and uphold a person’s fundamental rights, and to observe the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution to protect the rights of the accused, it results in something far more destructive, more pestilent and graver than mere imperfection,” she said in her petition.
The senator is currently detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame. Her legal team says she is doing “fine” and that she has been “sleeping well.”
Aside from Sen. Leila de Lima, her former driver and boyfriend Ronnie Dayan and former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos is included in the arrest warrant issued by Judge Guerrero.
Ragos, also a former NBI deputy director, be placed under the custody of the NBI detention facility in Manila while Dayan was placed in the custody of the Muntinlupa City Jail.
Separate cases for three counts of drug trafficking against were filed against De Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC which were assigned to three different courts.
The cases for sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were assigned to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.
The first case in Branch 204 include De Lima, Dayan and Ragos.
De Lima is joined by her nephew Jose Adrian Dera in the second case in Branch 205.
Lastly, the third case in Branch 206 is against De Lima, Dera, Dayan, former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, his alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian and De Lima’s former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez.