Court Administrator directs Muntinlupa court to finish De Lima trial within 9 months

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2023 04:38 PM

MANILA — The Office of the Court Administrator has directed the Muntinlupa court hearing former Senator Leila de Lima’s remaining drug case to fast track the trial.

In an order dated May 18, 2023, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 Judge Romeo Buenaventura noted an April 28 memorandum from the Office of the Court Administrator specifying a time period within which to decide the case.

“Received by the Court on May 04, 2023 is the Memorandum dated April 28, 2023 from Hon. Raul B. Villanueva, Court Administrator, directing the undersigned Presiding Judge to prioritize and decide the above-captioned case within the period provided under OCA Circular No. 83-2023, specifically, within nine (9) months, considering that the instant case has been pending for six (6) years, and to update the status of the case as soon as it has been disposed of,” the court order said.

Under OCA Circular No. 83-2023 issued on February 27 this year, cases which have been pending between 5 to 10 years should be decided within 9 months. 

Meanwhile, cases that have been pending for less than 5 years should be heard, tried and decided within 3 months while judges handing cases pending for more than 10 years should be able to render a ruling within 12 months and 1 day.

The purpose of the circular is to ensure speedy hearing or trial in all regional trial courts.

In response to the OCA directive, Judge Buenaventura set 3 hearing dates on June 5, 19 and 26 for the prosecution to finish presenting its evidence.

The prosecution, on May 31, submitted the names of the witnesses they intend to present — 6 for June 5, 7 for June 19 and 6 for June 26 or a total of 19 witnesses, on top of the earlier 9 witnesses it has presented during the bail hearing.

The name of an additional witness from the National Bureau of Investigation was subsequently added.

The directive from the OCA to fast track the trial of the case came before De Lima’s bail petition was denied on Wednesday.

De Lima, her former aide Ronnie Dayan, and 5 others are accused of committing conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison, based on testimonies of witnesses, most of whom are Bilibid inmates.

De Lima has denied the claims, dismissing them as political persecution.

But the Muntinlupa court found there was strong evidence of guilt among the accused, based on the testimonies of 9 prosecution witnesses presented during the bail hearing.

The court however noted that the ruling on the bail petition did not prejudge the whole case.

De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon said Thursday they will file a motion for reconsideration.

In a statement, De Lima said she was disappointed by the ruling but she remained hopeful.

“The court's denial of my bail application is most unfortunate. My lawyers will be filing an MR to raise the issue on the credibility of the inmate witnesses and their testimonies anew, with the Hope that the judge is not yet closed to the perspective that their word, uncorroborated as they are by more acceptable evidence, is utterly unreliable and therefore completely not credible and unworthy of belief. Theirs are blatant lies and ludicrous stories,” she said.

“I am of course disappointed. But with a clean conscience, I cannot and will not lose Hope. I have to remain strong as I’m determined to attain justice and vindication,” she said.