MANILA - It's a question of jurisdiction: Should the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) handle the drug case of Senator Leila De Lima, or should it have been forwarded to the Ombudsman which would later file a case before the Sandiganbayan?
Retired Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval explained that both courts may hear and try De Lima's cases. However, no law states that either of these courts has the exclusive jurisdiction over a drug offense case involving a public official.
Sandoval cited two provisions of separate laws which both uphold the RTC's and Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction over De Lima's cases.
Republic Act 8249, which defines the the jurisdiction of Sandiganbayan, says the anti-graft court has the exclusive jurisdiction over graft, forfeiture of illegally acquired wealth, direct bribery, indirect bribery, qualified bribery, and corruption of public officials, including those classified as Grade 27 or higher.
Sandiganbayan will also hear and try civil and criminal cases in connection with executive orders 1, 2, 14, and 14-A of 1986, as well as plunder, malversation, heinous crimes, and violations of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards and the Anti-Money Laundering Law.
This law also provides the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction over "Other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crimes committed in relation to their office by the public officials and employees mentioned above," such as De Lima's drug offense cases.
Sandoval explained, the question which will determine whether De Lima's case should be heard by Sandiganbayan is: Could the offense have been committed if she was not secretary of justice?
"Ang Supreme Court (SC), nag-lax. Even if crimes which are not graft crimes, as long as they were committed in their performance of duties of public officers, may jurisdiction ang Sandiganbayan," Sandoval said.
On the other hand, Section 90 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 states that "The Supreme Court shall designate special courts from among the existing Regional Trial Courts in each judicial region to exclusively try and hear cases involving violations of this Act."
Sandoval said Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero's court was one of the courts appointed by the SC as a special drugs court.
"To exclusively hear and try violations of this law, what I observed there is hindi specify we shall have exclusive jurisdiction. Dun nagkaroon siguro ng puntos nina Senator De Lima -- na hindi exclusive ang jurisdiction," Sandoval explained.
In the end, Sandoval said De Lima and the DOJ may raise the jurisdictional question before the Supreme Court, which has the final say on which court should handle the senator's cases.
"The Supreme Court should resolve that," Sandoval said. "The Supreme Court may say the jurisdiction is exclusive with Sandiganbayan, or the jurisdiction is exclusive with the drug court. Or they have concurrent jurisdiction."
De Lima's lawyers are expected to question the senator's arrest before the Supreme Court.