Dissenting Opinions on the De Lima Case
THE PUBLIC must learn to appreciate the value of dissenting opinions on Supreme Court decisions, especially in landmark cases that may affect the state of human rights and due process in Philippine society.
On October 10, the Supreme Court (SC) by vote of 9-6 junked detained Senator Leila De Lima’s petition which questioned the drug-related cases against her, citing lack of jurisdiction, insufficiency of chargesfor drug-related offenses and hearsay testimonies. If granted, the Court’s decision would release her from her from her 8-month imprisonment. There are many, not just the senator’s colleagues and supporters, who view her ordeal as an example of the government’s blatant attempt to silence dissent.
CMFR cheers the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Rappler and GMA News Online for their reports which looked into the salient points raised by the dissenting opinions on this case.
Two reports of Rappler, “Supreme Court explains decision keeping De Lima in jail” and “De Lima ruling ‘one of the grossest injustices’ – Carpio,” noted the rebuttal penned by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. The majority decision was written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. Carpio called attention to the issue of jurisdiction, the flaws in the Information filed against De Lima, and Velasco’s past decisions which his current position contradicted. Previously, Velasco had required the complete listing of elements for the crime of illegal sale and trade of drugs for the prosecution of said crime.
On the jurisdiction issue, Carpio agreed with De Lima that the appropriate charge should have been bribery and not involvement in the illegal drug trade, citing Section 2 of the Sandiganbayan Law (RA 10660) which upholds the exclusive jurisdiction of the RTCs when the Information “does not allege any damage to the government or any bribery; or alleges damage to the government or bribery arising from the same or closely related transactions or acts in an amount not exceeding One million pesos (1,000,000.00).” Since the accusation included an alleged bribery exceeding one million pesos, the case should be handled by the Sandiganbayan and not the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), Carpio said.
The Inquirer also carried the views of Associate Justice Alfredo Caguioa. Caguioa observed Velasco’s flip-flop from his previous positions. The ponente granted a similar petition filed by then Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla in December 2016. Revilla was indicted for plunder and graft charges in connection with the pork barrel scam. The Inquirer checked the Revilla case and found that Velasco argued that hearsay testimonies are inadmissible: “Under the rule, the testimony made by the confessant is hearsay and inadmissible as against his co-accused even during the preliminary investigation stage.”
Unfortunately, the issues raised by the dissenting justice could have been missed given the report’s headline which did not indicate the report’s main subject. (“SC: De Lima faces probe on hearsay evidence”)
GMA News Online’s “Leonen: SC ruling on De Lima arrest ‘deeply disturbing, unsettling’” and Star’s “SC’s Carpio: De Lima cases pure invention, ‘grossest injustice’” collated the key points presented by the dissenting magistrates — Carpio, Caguioa, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The dissenting justices agreed that the Sandiganbayan, not the RTC, had jurisdiction over De Lima’s case. Chief Justice Sereno argued that the crime De Lima has been accused of “could not have been perpetrated had she not been holding public office” — a point also made by Perlas-Bernabe. The dissenting opinions also called attention to the failure of the Information to correspond to the crimes of illegal drug sale and trade.
At least two justices also criticized the motives behind the decisions. Justice Leonen described the case as “quintessentially the use of the strong arm of the law to silence dissent.” Caguioa slammed the decision, stating: “The message is clear and unmistakable: Arrest first; resolve the motion to quash and amend the Information later; then proceed to trial; finally, acquit after ten years or so.”
Such case analyses are challenging work for journalists. Cheers to these reporters for providing the public as much access to this landmark case.