De Lima seeks inhibition of judge in drugs case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2018 03:24 PM | Updated as of Oct 16 2018 05:01 PM

Senator Leila De Lima emerges from her hearing on drug charges at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court, June 30, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The camp of Senator Leila de Lima has asked the judge handling one of 3 drugs cases against her to inhibit from handling the case.

De Lima on Monday moved for the inhibition of Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo.

In a 13-page motion, De Lima accused Domingo of “displaying manifest bias, partiality, and even hostility” towards her through her various rulings against the senator.

De Lima said Domingo prematurely ruled on her motion to disqualify prosecution witnesses even if the judge had previously given her camp 5 days to file its reply to the prosecution’s comment/opposition to her motion.

In September, De Lima sought the disqualification of 13 previously-convicted prosecution witnesses on the ground that a prior conviction prevents witnesses from being admitted as state witnesses, under the Republic Act No. 6981 or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.

The law requires that before a witness can be admitted as a state witness, he/she must not have been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.

Based on cases decided by the Supreme Court, moral turpitude refers to “an act of baseness, vileness or depravity” that “gravely violates moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community…” This includes cases such as murder, kidnapping, robbery and selling of illegal drugs, for which crimes the prosecution witnesses were convicted.

According to her camp, De Lima was given until September 24, 2018 to file her reply but even before she could file her pleading, the judge came out with a ruling on that same day denying the motion.

The court said the witnesses were not accused in the conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading case which De Lima is facing, thus, the disqualification does not apply.

De Lima took issue with the timing of the release of the ruling.

“This means that the Honorable Judge already had a pre determined resolution of the Motion even before the Accused filed her Reply. This clearly constitutes an act of prejudgment, reflecting the Honorable Judge’s manifest bias, partiality, and hostility against the Accused,” De Lima’s motion said.

When asked to reconsider its ruling, the court denied De Lima’s motion to vacate the September 24 ruling even before its scheduled hearing date, the motion said.

The senator also faulted Domingo for her previous ruling denying De Lima’s appeal to reverse the court’s decision accepting the amended information.

De Lima was originally charged with “illegal drug trading” but this
was amended to “conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.” The judge denied De Lima’s motion to quash.

The motion also accused the judge of preventing De Lima’s lawyer from questioning a witness regarding his criminal record, which was meant to question his credibility.

“These incidents, taken collectively, coupled with the apparent hostility of the Honorable Judge to the media to observe her manner in the conduct of the proceedings when she issued a verbal order preventing members of the media from gaining access to the courtroom during the trial of the case, no longer indicate mere lapses in judgment or innocent actions that were not intended to prejudice the defense of the Accused,” the motion said.

“Instead, the recurrence of said incidents already unravel a surreptitious design to undermine the defense of the Accused from the very beginning, by prejudging incidents raised by the Accused, thereby displaying a manifest bias, partiality, and even hostility to the cause of the Accused,” it added.

This is not the first time De Lima is seeking the inhibition of a judge handling her case.

In November 2017, she also asked Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 to inhibit from the case. She accused the judge of partiality in issuing her warrant of arrest, not immediately acting on her motion to quash and in scheduling her arraignment despite the pending motion to quash before the RTC and a motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court.

In January 2018, Guerrero inhibited from the case.