More dissents in De Lima case

Other than Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Marvic Leonen, four more magistrates of the Supreme Court, namely the Chief Justice herself  Maria Lourdes Sereno, Associate Justices Benjamin Caguioa, Francis Jardeleza, and Estela Bernabe submitted their dissent to oppose the majority decision of the Court in the Senator Leila M. De Lima Vs. Hon. Juanita Guerrero, et al, G.R. No. 229781. October 10, 2017.

Chief Justice Sereno’s dissent follows the thesis that from the recital of drug offenses, it can be seen that depending on the particular allegations in the charge, most of the offenses under R.A. 9165 can be committed by a public officer in relation to office. 

However, given the thousands of public officers included in the President’s drug list vis-a-vis the numerous means through which a drug offense can be committed in relation to public office chaos in the process of determining which prosecutorial body or tribunal has jurisdiction ensues. And this is not a question left for determination by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) alone, but the duty of the Court to clarify and settle the question of jurisdiction over the alleged acts of the petitioner could not have been committed unless in relation to her office.

Sereno points out that as petitioner was a public official and for having committed violations of R.A. 9165 by using her office as a means of committing the crime of illegal trading in dangerous drugs under Section 5 in relation to Section 3(jj), Section 26(b ), and Section 28, the case falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan and not with the Regional Trial Court. Sereno believes that it is more favorable to petitioner and all other similar public officials accused of drug offenses committed in relation to their office to be placed within the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction because first, the appeal route is shorter, by virtue of the fact that the review of convictions is generally elevated to this Court via the discretionary mode of petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45. Second, the direct elevation of a petition to the Supreme Court translates to the application of a tighter standard in the trial of the case.

For his part, Justice Caguioa believes that the Information does not charge “attempt or conspiracy to commit illegal trading of dangerous drugs” under Section 26(b) of RA 9165. Instead, a reading of the body or factual recitals of the Information is that Petitioner is being charged with violation of Section 5 and not violation of Section 26(b ). To Caguioa there is nothing clearer—the purported offense described in the Information is illegal drug trading as a consummated crime, and not as a conspiracy to commit the same. Moreover, the the Information does NOT charge Petitioner with illegal “trading” of dangerous drugs as defined under RA 9165. While the word ‘’trading” is attributed to Petitioner in the Information, the essential acts committed by Petitioner from which it can be discerned that she did in fact commit illegal “trading” of dangerous drugs as defined in RA 9165 are not alleged therein. Neither, he says, does the Information validly charge Petitioner with violation of Sections 27 and 28 of the Act.

Justice Caguioa also argues that the Information does not validly charge Petitioner with any unlawful act under the Act. In his words, the patent glaring defects on the face of the Information such as the absence of the corpus delicti or the “dangerous drugs” the use of the term “trading” is without the specific acts committed by Petitioner as there is no averment of any or all the elements of said unlawful acts, including her use of identified electronic device/s; the names of the so-called “high profile inmates in the New Bilibid Prison” are not provided; and the purported acts of the said inmates constituting illegal “trade and traffic [of] dangerous drugs” (from which the “proceeds” were derived) are not alleged—ll make the information fatally defective. 

On his part, Justice Jardeleza is of the opinion that at the time of the alleged commission of the offense, petitioner was the incumbent secretary of the Department of Justice, a position classified as Salary Grade 31 and squarely falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. It is likewise clear from the allegations in the information that the crime was committed in relation to her capacity as then secretary of Justice; hence, the Sandiganbayan has exclusive jurisdiction over petitioner’s case. Without jurisdiction, Jaredeleza adds, the RTC could not have issued the warrant of arrest. 

Jardeleza clarifies that the respondent judge violated petitioner’s constitutional right to due process and to speedy disposition of cases when she issued a warrant of arrest without resolving the issue of jurisdiction over the offense charged. According to Jardeleza, she ought to have known that, under the Rules, she could not have proceeded with petitioner’s arraignment if she did not have jurisdiction over the offense charged. Respondent judge’s error is aggravated by the fact that the lack of jurisdiction is patent on the face of the information.

Finally, while concurring in some points of the majority opinion, Justice Bernabe also concludes that Senator De Lima’s case falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.  She pointed out how this conclusion necessitates the dismissal of the case against her as it was erroneously filed with the RTC, which holds no jurisdiction over the same. According to Bernabe: “It is well-settled that a court which has no jurisdiction over the subject matter has no choice but to dismiss the case. Also, whenever it becomes apparent to a reviewing court that jurisdiction over the subject matter is lacking, then it ought to dismiss the case, as all proceedings thereto are null and void.”

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Topics: Supreme Court , De Lima
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