MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is not commenting publicly on the appeal of Sen. Leila de Lima on the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to junk her complaint against him.
De Lima filed before the Court of Appeals a petition for review seeking to reverse the Ombudsman’s decision to dismiss her October 2018 administrative complaint accusing Guevarra for supposedly violating a law against using criminal convicts as state witnesses.
“If it’s true that the matter has been elevated to the CA, then it’s sub judice. If asked to comment, I will make the comment in court,” Guevarra told reporters in a message.
“It is not my policy to discuss in public cases which are under litigation or review, because such act may constitute contempt of court which is punishable under existing rules,” he explained.
The detained senator had long questioned the Justice department’s use of convicts as witnesses against her, which included Herbert Colanggo, who was convicted for robbery with homicide; Peter Co, convicted for illegal sale and delivery of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu; and others convicted for murder, homicide and kidnap for ransom.
In her appeal, De Lima, a former Justice Secretary during the Noynoy Aquino administration, said that under Sec. 10 (f) of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefits Program (WPSBP) Law, convicts are disqualified to stand as state witnesses.
The DOJ had not categorically stated if the 13 convicts are being used as state or ordinary witnesses, except to say that no convicted person has been used a state witness under Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.
Under that rule, a state witness refers to a person who has been charged with an offense but is later discharged so he/she can testify. Since the convicts were not included in the complaint, they are not considered state witnesses, Guevarra argued.
But De Lima said the witnesses were in fact granted immunity from prosecution based on the WPSBP law.
In absolving Guevarra, the Ombudsman said Sec. 10(f) of the law does not apply if the crime was committed in prison and the only witnesses are convicted criminals, a claim De Lima rejected as a “product of the pure imagination and creative mind” of the Office of the Ombudsman.
“If this kind of culture and thinking in the Ombudsman are allowed to fester, the constitutional office might as well be abolished for having been neutered by its very own officials,” she said in a statement Saturday.
De Lima, who accused Guevarra as well of gross neglect of duty for failure to prosecute the Bilibid drug lords who admitted involvement in the illegal drug trade, said the Ombudsman did not do its job to investigate the DOJ chief.
She disclosed that the Ombudsman had tried to secure a certification from Guevarra on the status of the convicts used as witnesses against her, but the Justice Secretary reportedly denied the request, citing confidentiality.
Instead, she was told by the Ombudsman that they cannot continue with their investigation because of Guevarra’s supposed failure to issue a certification, she said.
“What the Ombudsman is saying is that it is the responsibility of the citizens to investigate and furnish it with evidence via spoon-feeding before it can act on any complaint filed against a public official. This is almost hilarious if it were not so tragic,” De Lima said.
But Guevarra refused to comment on the details of De Lima’s appeal.
“Suffice it to say that Senator de Lima is free to take all available legal remedies, as she has freely done since the time that she was indicted for serious criminal offenses,” he said.
De Lima is facing 3 charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, allegations stemming from her stint as Justice Secretary.
According to the complaint, she allegedly raised funds for her senatorial bid. She has repeatedly denied the charges.
Her lawyers recently told the media that several witnesses, including convicted drug lord Vicente Sy, officials from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, among others, supposedly admitted on the witness stand that they do not have personal knowledge about De Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
De Lima, who also headed the Commission on Human Rights from 2008 until 2010, is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.
FROM THE ARCHIVES