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Watchdog blasts special perks for Leila

A CRIME watchdog group is considering filing a complaint before the Supreme Court to question what it says is the special treatment given to detained Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested on drug charges Friday. 

As the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption called for De Lima’s detention in an ordinary jail like common inmates, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the senator had put up a weak legal defense when she did not answer the charges against her, and questioned instead the Justice Department’s jurisdiction.

In a phone interview Sunday, VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez complained about De Lima’s detention at the Philippine National Police custodial center.

VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez

“VACC condemns the incarceration of De Lima at the PNP custodial center. It is a violation of the constitutional provision of equal protection and equal treatment under the law,” Jimenez said.

De Lima is detained in a room with a receiving area inside the PNP custodial center, an area supposedly occupied by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile when he was detained for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.

In contrast, Jimenez said, De Lima’s co-accused, her former driver-body guard and lover, Ronnie Dayan, was in jail at the Muntinlupa police station.

“Why is Dayan in Muntinlupa? De Lima should be put in an ordinary jail similar to Dayan,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez also asked why former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos was detained at the National Bureau of Investigation following his surrender Sunday.

Ragos, along with De Lima and Dayan were ordered arrested by Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial  in connection with the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

“Our lawyers will study the possibility of questioning the special treatment and test this provision of the Constitution of equal treatment,” Jimenez said.

 Aguirre, meanwhile, said De Lima had nobody to blame but herself for not answering the charges against her.

“This is a very simple case. She did not file counter-affidavit in the DoJ so it was easy for the judge to see probable cause and issue the warrant of arrest,” Aguirre said.

He said De Lima’s focus on the issue of jurisdiction was a weak defense.

The Justice secretary also  noted that even the Court of Appeals did not buy the senator’s argument that the drug cases should have been forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman when it denied her plea for a temporary restraining order to prevent the Justice Department from filing the cases in court.

The DoJ chief also denied the claim of De Lima and her fellow senators in the Liberal Party that the arrest warrant appeared to be rushed.

 “It was not rushed. We were actually expecting the issuance of the arrest warrant as early as last Friday [Feb.17] when the cases were filed in the Muntinlupa trial court,” he said.

He said De Lima’s motion to quash was not enough to weaken the Justice department’s finding of probable cause.

De Lima’s lawyers  said they would file a petition before the Supreme Court this week to question her arrest and again assail the jurisdiction of the regional trial court, insisting that the cases be heard in the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan.

Aguirre insists, however, that the RTC has exclusive jurisdiction over the three cases, regardless of De Lima’s position, because trading in illegal drugs had no connection to the performance of her duties as secretary of Justice at the time.

The three separate cases against De Lima, which accused her of receiving millions of pesos from illegal drug trade in New Bilibid Prison, were raffled off to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.

The first count in Branch 204 also included De Lima’s former driver and lover, Dayan and National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Rafael Ragos as her co-accused.

De Lima is joined by her nephew Jose Adrian Dera in the second count in Branch 205.

The third count in Branch 206 includes former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu, his alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, De Lima’s former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez, Dayan and Dera also as accused.

Guerrero issued the arrest warrant on Thursday, Feb. 23, while the two others decided to first hear De Lima’s motion.

The hearings on De Lima’s motion, which seeks outright dismissal of the charges, are set this Friday, March 3. 

The Palace on Saturday said the case against De Lima had probable cause and was not political.

“Let us be clear about this. Her arrest was based on probable cause.  Her case is criminal, and not political,” said presidential spokespman Ernesto Abella in an interview on state-run dzRB.

Abella also denied that Malacañang was out to suppress dissent against Duterte and his administration.

In the same interview, Abella laughed off the notion that De Lima was being compared to the late Senator Benigno Aquino, the father of former President Benigno Aquino III. 

“You’re kidding, right? I mean, I think she’s trying to create political drama where none exists,” he said.

Members of the  Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the rising threats to freedom in Asia after De Lima’s arrest.

“We devoted the past three days to discuss effective responses to the current political situation in the region – from the recent arrest of a Liberal Party senator in the Philippines, the elections in Indonesia and Hong Kong, to the amendments of the political party law in Cambodia,” said CALD Chairperson Abhisit Vejjajiva.

As a result,  Vejjajiva  said CALD passed two resolutions on Cambodia and the Philippines condemning efforts to curtail political rights. 

He said leaders of political parties from 10 countries in Asia convened in Bangkok in February to discuss the new wave of populism, authoritarianism and extremism now gripping the region and the world. 

But Aguirre  on Sunday challenged leaders of London-based Liberal International to come to the country see for themselves the reforms being implemented by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for the benefits of Filipinos.

Aguirre made the statement even as he debunked the insinuation by the European liberals that the Philippines is “turning rapidly into an illiberal state.”

The Justice secretary said the claim of the Liberal International has no basis at all.

“That is not true. The Liberal International, Human Right Watch should come to the Philippines to see for themselves the changes, the difference and the good governance being implemented by President Duterte,” Aguirre said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

Topics: Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption , Dante Jimenez , Senator Leila de Lima , Philippine National Police custodial center
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