Muntinlupa court junks contempt case vs De Lima, lawyer

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 27 2022 10:36 AM | Updated as of May 27 2022 12:23 PM

Senator Leila DeLima attends her hearing at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Friday, June 22, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
Senator Leila DeLima attends her hearing at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Friday, June 22, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA — A Muntinlupa court has junked an indirect contempt case against detained Senator Leila de Lima and Atty Filibon Tacardon over the lawyer’s statements to the media about the senator’s drug cases.

In a 33-page order dated May 2, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Judge Gener Gito granted De Lima and Tacardon’s motion to dismiss the case.

“[W]hat respondent Tacardon reported to the media are mere echoes of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. The Court does not find malice in them nor contumacious in those statements,” Gito said.

Government prosecutors, in December 2020, filed a petition for indirect contempt against De Lima and Tacardon, accusing them of violating the sub judice rule which bars parties to a case from discussing the merits in public to avoid influencing the outcome of the case.

They cited 2 statements by Tacardon to the media that officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Anti-Money Laundering Council have allegedly cleared De Lima from the illegal drug charges and that drug lord Vicente Sy admitted on the witness stand that he has never met the senator despite previously claiming he gave P500,000 as campaign funds to De Lima in 2012.

The court said Tacardon’s statements did not meet the “clear and present danger” test in assessing whether statements are contemptuous.

“The Court deciphered the comments and utterances of respondent Atty. Tacardon to the various media outlets and find nothing therein that would create a 'clear and present danger' to the administration of justice. What respondent Atty. Tacardon reported are the answers of the prosecution witnesses during their cross-examination. Respondent Atty. Tacardon merely reported the admissions made by those witnesses,” Judge Gito said.

The court also noted there was no violation of the sub judice rule because Tacardon only restated the admissions of the prosecution witnesses and his statements were “not fabricated, edited, slanted or couched in such a manner that it may influence the judge.”

Tacardon also did not discuss the merits of the case nor did he analyze the impact of the admissions to the merits of the case, the court said.

The court also differentiated the case from other cases like those of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was reprimanded for publicly claiming that the grant of the quo warranto petition against her would result in a dictatorship and destroy the judiciary.

In contrast, the court absolved both Tacardon and De Lima.

De Lima was supposedly complicit in Tacardon’s statements to the media by authorizing the lawyer to make the claims.

But the court rejected this allegation.

“If respondent Atty. Tacardon cannot be punished for those statements, the same can be said true likewise for Senator De Lima. Her indictment to the case was on the basis of complicity; of she having authorized respondent Atty. Tacardon to make those statements complained of,” he said.

WITNESSES RECANT TESTIMONY VS DE LIMA

The ruling comes after two key witnesses against De Lima retracted their allegations against her.

In April, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa took back all his allegations against De Lima during a 2016 Senate hearing that he gave a total of P8 million in drug payoffs to De Lima when the latter was Justice Secretary, through her former driver, Ronnie Dayan.

A few days later, former Bureau of Corrections OIC Rafael Ragos also recanted his testimony in court that he personally delivered P10 million of alleged drug money to Dayan at De Lima’s house in Parañaque, accusing former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of pressuring him to testify against De Lima.

Aguirre has denied the claim.

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Dayan and De Lima also rejected the allegations against them.

In mid-May, Dayan testified in his defense that no delivery of drug money to De Lima’s house ever happened.

He also recanted his earlier testimony before the House of Representatives that he supposedly received drug money from Espinosa.

He accused the late Rep. Rey Umali, then the House Justice committee chair, of forcing him to testify against De Lima and to sign an affidavit which Umali’s lawyer allegedly prepared.

De Lima has moved to dismiss 1 of his 2 pending drug cases by submitting Ragos’ affidavit. 

In February last year, a Muntinlupa court junked a third drug case against her.

De Lima has maintained the cases against her are political persecution allegedly borne out of President Rodrigo Duterte vengeance because she initiated a Senate probe into his bloody drug war.