MANILA – The Supreme Court on Thursday designated a Manila judge to a court in Muntinlupa hearing one of the drug cases against detained Senator Leila de Lima.
Chief Justice Diodado Peralta designated Judge Grace Chavez-Ty, presiding judge of Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 177, as acting presiding judge of Muntinlupa RTC Br. 256.
Her designation is “full-time,” “effective immediately” and will last until a new judge is appointed and takes office, but not beyond 6 months, based on Peralta’s administrative order provided to the media by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez.
The directive came 2 days after De Lima wrote the Office of the Court Administrator urging it to assign a new judge.
She claimed that Judge Antonietta Medina of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 276, the pairing judge assigned to the case pending before Branch 256, does not hold any hearings on the drugs case. De Lima pointed out the judge had inhibited twice from her other drug case.
The detained senator is currently facing 3 drug cases for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.
But Marquez clarified that they were already processing Chavez-Ty’s designation when they were informed about De Lima’s letter.
“We really had to put someone there because the case load is 900 plus. So her designation is full time,” he said.
“I was told that the designation was brought about in order to address the increase in case load of that trial court branch,” SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka added.
Hosaka explained that the six-month limit is intended to comply with constitutional requirements that do not allow temporary assignment of lower court judges to other stations beyond 6 months, without the judge’s consent.
Prior to her designation to Muntinlupa RTC Br. 256, Chavez-Ty was also designated as acting presiding judge of Manila RTC Br. 44 since October 2018. The new order revoked her previous designation.
In her letter to OCA, De Lima claimed only 5 out of 54 identified witnesses have been called to testify against her since she was arrested in February 2017 and her arraignment in July 2018.
She is also facing 2 other drug cases in Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204.
Six judges have so far withdrawn from handling the cases against De Lima either by inhibiting from the case or by retiring.
Another judge, Judge Gener Gito, was relieved from his designation as acting presiding judge of Muntinlupa RTC Br. 256 in November 2019 under an OCA circular, which led to Judge Medina taking over the case.