DOJ: 'Suspicious circumstances' in Asiatique TRO

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 01 2011 12:54 PM | Updated as of Sep 01 2011 09:21 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - The Department of Justice on Thursday instructed the Office of the Solicitor General to file an urgent motion for inhibition of  Pasig Regional Trial Court Judge Rolando Mislang who issued the 20-day temporary restraining order, which stopped the filing of of a criminal case for syndicated estafa constituting economic sabotage against property developer Delfin Lee and four others in connection with Globe Asiatique (GA) Realty Holdings Corporation's Xevera housing project in Mabalacat, Pampanga.

The DOJ also wants a formal administrative complaint filed against Mislang before the Supreme Court due to alleged irregular, suspicious circumstances surrounding the issuance of the TRO.

RTC Branch 167 Judge Rolando Mislang issued a 20-day TRO "enjoining the Respondent Department of Justice (DOJ) to cease and desist from filing the corresponding information" stressing that serious and irreparable injury on the petitioner's rights must be avoided.

"[T]he Court reiterates that extreme urgency exists in the case and would cause serious and irreparable injury and damage to petitioner if petitioner faces arrest and cannot post bail in the event that an Information is filed before the matter on prejudicial question can be resolved..." the order read.

Syndicated estafa is a non-bailable offense that carries with it a penalty of life imprisonment.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said she was caught off-guard by Delfin Lee's move to amend his petition for injunction. Said petition for injunction involves a separate civil case filed by Lee against a preliminary investigation on a complaint filed by several buyers of GA.

"I was surprised, I was surprised. And, nalaman ko lang yan from media. Walang nare-receive ang DOJ na anything—a notice, or a copy of the [amended] petition," de Lima said.

ABS-CBN sources said Lee amended his petition last August 25, a day after the DOJ made public its finding of probable cause to indict him for syndicated estafa constituting economic sabotage.

The trial court heard Lee's amended petition with his application for a TRO on the filing of the above-state criminal information on August 26, and, on the same day, issued the temporary relief.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), through Assistant Solicitor Jason Lorenzo, representing the DOJ, objected the issuance of a TRO but was prevailed upon by the court.

In his amended petition and application for TRO, Lee raised as ground the existence of a prejudicial question and asked that proceedings in another criminal complaint still pending before the DOJ be continued and resolved.

De Lima has directed state prosecutors to explore the DOJ's legal options and "check" the circumstances behind Lee's amended petition and the status of the injunction case.

She stressed the "general rule" that criminal prosecution or the justice department's authority to file criminal informations "cannot be restrained."

"Normally, ordinarily, it is a legal principle that you cannot restrain a criminal prosecution as a general rule. There are, of course, exceptions so titingnan ko kung ano ‘yung naging basehan ng TRO na yan...nakakagulat yan, binigla na naman kami dyan," De Lima said.