Gov’t prosecutors ask court to cite De Lima, lawyer in contempt over statements on drug cases

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 04 2020 06:39 PM

MANILA — Government prosecutors have asked a Muntinlupa court to cite in contempt detained Sen. Leila de Lima and her lawyer, Boni Tacardon, over statements the lawyer made to the media on the lawmaker's drug cases.

Prosecutors led by Bataan Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo filed a petition for indirect contempt on Friday, citing 2 statements made by Tacardon: the first referring to his claim that officials from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Anti-Money Laundering Council have allegedly cleared De Lima from the illegal drug charges, while the second refers to his statement that a drug lord admitted on the witness stand that he has never met the detained senator.

Prosecutors said these statements violate the sub judice rule which bars parties from discussing the merits of a pending case in public to avoid influencing the outcome of the case.

“[R]espondents’ intentional and malicious misinformation to the media and the eventual publication of the same not only constitute improper conduct tending to impede, obstruct and/or degrade the administration of justice but also threaten the People’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” the petition read. 

“It is evident that the statements were deliberately made to arouse public opinion against our judicial system and to pressure and influence the Honorable Court into deciding the Petition for Bail in favor of respondent Sen. De Lima,” it added.

They named 5 reporters whom they intend to present on the witness stand. 

Prosecutors included the senator because she authorized the disclosure of the information to the media, based on a statement she issued where she defended such information made by her lawyers as “factual.”

“As their principal, I authorized my lawyers to disclose to the public material and significant particulars from witnesses’ declarations during the hearings, and other case developments in the interest of truth and transparency,” De Lima said in mid-November.

The filing of the indirect contempt charge — a separate case from the drug cases — came weeks after Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra warned they would move to cite the De Lima camp in contempt of court because their statements supposedly tend to prejudge the case.

But asked whose idea it was to file the contempt charge, Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete cited a pro-Duterte blogger who pointed out the statements of De Lima’s lawyer all over social media.

“We all are part of social media. Somebody brought it to my attention, my friend Mark Lopez, that there was this series of statements to media outlets purportedly coming from defense counsel Atty. Tacardon, and then finally there was a statement from the accused Sen. De Lima that the statements were with their approval. We found those statements to be contemptuous, and which prompted us to file this case,” Cañete told reporters shortly after filing the petition.

Cañete, also a Duterte supporter, first became controversial for his remarks on social media to “kill yellows” and that Kian de los Santos, the grade 11 student killed in a police operation in Caloocan City in 2017, could not be that innocent. 

Ocampo had previously defended Cañete’s inclusion in the prosecution panel for his “competence.”

STATUS OF DRUG CASES

De Lima is facing 3 drug charges, accused of running the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) supposedly to finance her senate bid. 

She has denied the allegations, claiming the witnesses against her were coached and the evidence fabricated. She had previously moved to disqualify 13 convicts from testifying against her but her plea was denied.

The prosecution has so far finished presenting witnesses in the first 2 cases, with the prosecution ending their presentation of evidence in the 2nd case Friday morning after they failed to present a witness due to inability to locate her. 

This was the 3rd time the prosecution failed to present Sally Serrano, allegedly a niece of convicted drug lord Peter Co, according to De Lima’s defense team.

Ocampo explained they had wanted to fly to China to track down Serrano but were unable to because of the pandemic.

He said they would later learn she was already in an undisclosed location in Aklan.

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“During the last hearing, it was attended by Prosecutor Cañete, the court already warned the prosecution and the counsels, but despite my plea that I be given another chance, I commit to the court that as head of the panel, I will fly personally to Aklan to locate the whereabouts, but it was denied,” he said.

Instead, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Judge Leizel Aquiatan required the prosecution to submit their formal offer of evidence in 5 days, effectively ending their chances to present additional proof. De Lima’s camp also has 5 days to comment.

The defense is set to start presenting its own evidence in the first 2 cases on Jan. 15.

Presentation of prosecution evidence is still ongoing for the 3rd case.

Prosecutors have refused to answer details about the pending cases, including why there was a need to present affidavits of dead witness Jaybee Sebastian who died due to COVID-19 in July, 6 days after executing his last affidavit.

They included these affidavits in their evidence, despite objections from De Lima’s camp which argued they could not possibly cross-examine his claims.

Prosecutor Ocampo confirmed Sebastian was already in Site Harry, the NBP’s isolation facility for COVID-19 patients, when he executed his last affidavit.

ABS-CBN News previously reported that Sebastian’s new affidavit contained additional allegations against De Lima. 

Prosecutors refused to comment on the significance of Sebastian’s and Serrano’s testimonies now that they were unable to testify, citing the sub judice rule.