MANILA (UPDATE)—A fifth judge hearing one of detained Sen. Leila de Lima’s drug cases has inhibited from hearing the case upon the lawmaker’s motion.
Judge Leizel Aquiatan of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205, who junked one of De Lima’s drug cases while deciding to push through with another one, granted De Lima’s motion for reconsideration and voluntarily recused herself from hearing the case, according to an order issued Monday.
“[A]fter reflection, the Presiding Judge resolves to voluntarily desist from hearing the case as her integrity and fairness might be seriously impugned,” Aquiatan said.
“If not granted, it will only create a hostile environment during the hearing to the detriment of the party-litigants which may affect the proceedings of the instant case,” she added.
In February this year, Aquiatan granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence — essentially a motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficient evidence — in the case involving Jad Dera, who supposedly ran the illegal drug trade in Bilibid with the detained senator.
But she denied De Lima’s and co-accused Ronnie Dayan’s demurrer and bail plea in another drug case. The senator called the ruling “clearly lopsided and logically challenged,” in her motion for reconsideration.
She moved for Aquiatan’s inhibition but the judge initially denied her plea.
In her motion for reconsideration, De Lima accused Aquiatan of brushing aside “without serious consideration” the grounds she cited for the judge to inhibit.
The judge also supposedly did not consider the entire records of the case in resolving her demurrer.
Aquiatan rejected De Lima’s allegations as baseless.
“Accused De Lima’s lack of confidence and trust casted a doubt against the Presiding Judge’s sense of impartiality and independence. The insinuation of the accused that the prosecution may be a privy to the habits of the Presiding Judge is unfounded and totally unfair,” she said.
“The undersigned Presiding Judge is merely performing her sworn duty to observe and follow court proceedings and an inhibition in this present case, which is based on unfounded grounds, amounts to an abdication of responsibility,” she added.
But she eventually relented.
“The Presiding Judge is thus convinced that the persistence of accused De Lima, which was later on joined by accused Dayan, is a just cause or valid ground to voluntarily inhibit in the instant case in order to dissuade any suspicion of partiality and to protect the interest of the judiciary where she belongs,” the order said.
According to De Lima’s team, Aquiatan is the fifth judge who handled and voluntarily inhibited from De Lima’s case.
The first four were:
- Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204, upon De Lima’s motion, after she allowed the admission of the amended information against the senator - Jan. 4, 2018
- Judge Antonietta Pablo-Medina of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 276, who voluntarily inhibited since she was a classmate of De Lima - Jan. 22, 2018
- Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 203, who voluntarily inhibited citing close personal ties with a member of the prosecution panel - Jan. 23, 2018
- Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206, upon De Lima’s motion when the judge refused to disqualify convicted prosecution witnesses - Nov. 5, 2018
Two other judges have availed themselves of early retirement:
- Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 - Feb. 1, 2018
- Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 - July 2019
A staunch critic of the Duterte administration, De Lima marked her fourth year in detention in February this year. She called the cases against her political persecution.