SC hearing on De Lima case: Are the rights of a senator more important?

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 21 2017 06:07 PM

MANILA – Are the rights of a senator superior to the rights of an ordinary citizen?

So asked Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires during the continuation of the oral arguments on the petition of Senator Leila de Lima against her arrest and detention.

De Lima’s camp has asked the high court to order the dismissal of the charges against the senator on grounds that the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) has no jurisdiction over her cases, and that two government agencies have conflicting views on which specific case should be filed against her.

De Lima’s legal counsel and lead oralist, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, asserted that the court erred in ordering De Lima’s arrest without first resolving their motion to quash.

He said the lack of jurisdiction, as well as the conflicting positions of the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General, are grounds to release De Lima from detention since her constitutional rights are being violated.

During his interpellation, Martires, a former Sandigabayan justice who was recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte to the high court, asked Hilbay whether the court should give the senator’s petition more consideration because of her stature.

“You keep using that word, ‘transcendental importance,’ ‘red flags’. Are the rights of a senator superior to the rights of an ordinary citizen?” Martires asked Hilbay.

To this, Hilbay replied: “We are saying exactly the opposite. We are not saying the petitioner is entitled to the relief we are asking from this court. We are asking for the relief because the actions of the government with respect to the petitioner. Regardless of who it was, I would imagine that person would be entitled to the same relief.”

“It wouldn’t matter to me whether it is Leila de Lima or Pepe and Pilar. By logic and by justice, it would be falling squarely within the recognized exceptions of this honorable court, which is why we say it is matter of transcendental importance.”

During the first round of oral arguments last week, Hilbay argued that their petition is of “transcendental importance” because De Lima’s work as a duly-elected senator is being impaired by her detention. 

Hilbay made this assertion as he defended his camp’s move to go straight to the SC despite having pending motions before the lower courts. He said the conditions present in De Lima’s case can be considered as exceptions to the principles forbidding forum shopping and bypassing of lower courts.

Also last week, SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asked “what’s so special” about De Lima’s case. Leonen argued that a favorable decision for De Lima might encourage politicians facing criminal charges to seek relief from the SC, thereby affecting the administration of justice.

During the hearing today, SC Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza also raised the same issue.

“Wouldn’t that open the floodgates to innumerable motions and that it will affect the administration of justice?” Jardeleza asked.

“What we’re saying is that every judge will have to face each and every case looking at the particular circumstance. What we're saying is, given the obvious circumstances in this case, there is no way the judge would have done her functions properly had she not ruled on the motion to quash of the petitioner,” Hilbay replied.