TOMORROW it shall be four years since Sen. Leila de Lima was arrested on non-bailable drug charges – filed by a government that took power on the promise that the drug menace would be licked in three to six months.
The Philippines’ foreign affairs secretary extolled the acquittal as “proof conclusive that the Philippine justice system works if slowly at least exceedingly fine.”
The secretary added that he will send a copy of the decision to the United Nations“as further reason to respect our justice system before opening the mouth with ignorant comments.”
Are we reading this correctly?That one cabinet member is rejoicing over the failure of government to convict the most prominent detainee in the waron drugs?
That de Lima’s acquittal, although slow in coming, is in effect a triumph of justice?
Surely, the good secretary must know it is the job of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to warrant that the evidence it had harnessed against the accused should be enough to secure a conviction.
There is a principle of law that has become almost a cliché among lawyers engaged in criminal litigation – the purpose of a preliminary investigation is not only to determine whether a crime was committed and that the person charged is likely guilty. It is also to shield the innocent against hasty, malicious, oppressive, and expensive prosecution.
The secretary of justice screens prospective indictments. One of his important duties is to protect the State from having to conduct useless and expensive trials.
A faithful adherence to this principle ensures a higher conviction rate and unburdens the court system of frivolous and unwieldy prosecutions. It is a sieve that filters meritorious cases from sheer clutter. It draws the line between prosecution and persecution.
The regional trial court of Muntinlupa dismissed one criminal Information against de Lima on demurrer, i.e., without even waiting for the defense to present evidence to counter the evidence presented by the DOJ prosecutors.
The judge said that the prosecution was unable to establish a link between the senator and her alleged conspirators. Birth documents which are accessible to governmentcould have shown de Lima’s affinity with her co-accused JadDera.
Dera was announced by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre as the senator’s nephew who had access to convicted drug lord Peter Co.The absence of a link should have been apparent during preliminary investigation.
The DOJ nonetheless proceeded to include de Lima in the indictment in obvious disregard of such a glaring loophole in the case. It smacks of persecution, not prosecution.
A dismissal of the complaint at the preliminary investigation stage could have saved some people, including the prosecutors themselves, a lot of time, money, and effort in trying a case that was cooked as adobo without the requisite soy sauce and vinegar.
An objective investigation by the police and the prosecutors is an essential cog in the country’s criminal justice system. A conscientious and intelligent evaluation of the available evidence can spell all the difference in whether a person should spend a single day in jail.
Was de Lima’s incarceration at all the product of an objective investigation? Can we honestly say that in the context of no less than the President of the Republic loudly predicting her impending arrest four years ago?
Prior to her indictment de Lima insisted that it was the Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales at the time, who had the power to investigate her acts that were allegedly committed when she was secretary of justice. Aguirre insisted the DOJ also had that power, and subsequently filed the charges that led to de Lima’s arrest.
De Lima lost the argument before a sharply divided Supreme Court. A slim majority of justices sustained the DOJ’s power to investigate de Lima.
One haunting dissentwas that written by Justice Antonio Carpio who said that the accusation of illegal trade of drugs against de Lima is “blatantly a pure invention.”
He added that the Court “should never countenance such a fake charge,”and that de Lima’s continued detention “is one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world.”
While a trial court may have partially corrected the injustice four years later, two of the tree charges remain pending, and each passing day spent in detention is a day lost in the cause of freedom to dissent./WDJ