Saturday, May 18, 2024

Muntinlupa judge inhibits from De Lima’s drug case

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REGIONAL  Trial  Court of Muntinlupa City Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura has decided to inhibit from further hearing the remaining drug case filed against Senator Leila de Lima and her co-accused in connection with their alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade  inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

In a seven-page order dated June 15, 2023, Judge Buenaventura granted the separate motions filed by De Lima’s co-accused namely Ronnie Dayan, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu and  Joenel Sanchez .

Judge Buenvantura, however, insisted that he had handled the drug case with “cold impartiality of an impartial judge” and that no one had influenced his judgement and conduct in adjudicating the case. 

Prior to his inhibition, Judge Buenvanetura denied the plea of de Lima and her co-accused ‘s applications for bail, saying that the evidence of guilt against them is strong. 

“Nevertheless, while the Presiding judge has upheld his impartiality and objectivity in adjudicating the instant case, especially in resolving  the applications , he recognizes the fact that his every action, no matter how judiciously made, is vulnerable to charges of bias and partiality,” the judge stressed.

“Thus, pursuant to the second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court and other careful  reflection and consideration , in order to preserve the ideal of cold snd impartial dispensation of justice by the Court , better part of prudence dictates that the herein Presiding Judge should recuse and disassociate himself from further hearing the above-entitled case,” he added. 

Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court bars any judge or judicial officer from handling any case “in which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interest as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in which he is related to either party, within the sixth degree of consanguinity, or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree…”

It further stated that “a judge, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons, other that those mentioned above.”

Judge Buenaventura’s inhibition from the case was sought by the accused  following his failure to disclose his relationship to lawyer Emmanuel Buenvatura.

Atty. Buenaventura, according to their motions, was the lawyer who assisted Dayan in the execution of his affidavit dated November 24, 2016 which was used as his testimony on a hearing before the House Committee on Justice implicating de Lim in the illegal drug trade inside the NBP.

Dayan has recanted  his affidavit and testimony saying that these were given under duress.

Aside  from being Emmanuel’s brother,  Bucayu assailed the judge ruling on their plea applications for being “an overkill” and that the judge “has virtually and already blindly convicted all the accused in the case.” 

However, Judge Buenaventura countered that his relationship with Atty. Buenaventura is not sufficient to prove that he  acted with malice, bad faith, and partiality in conducting the proceedings in the case. 

He noted that the Supreme Court has previously set parameters in disqualifying a judge for partiality,  such as : there must must  adequate evidence to prove the charge; there must be showing that the judge had an interest, personal or otherwise, in the prosecution  of the case at bar; and the bias and prejudice must have stemmed from an extra-judicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.” 

In the case of the accused, Judge Buenaventura pointed out that he exhaustively discussed the legal parameters on how to resolve the petitions and motions for bail and even emphasized that in finding is strong the court does not in any way prejudge what the final outcome of the case will be as strong evidence of guilt does not equate to a finding or proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. 

Judge Buenaventura also said he was not aware that Atty. Buenaventura was the former counsel of Dayan.

“Certainly, the Presiding Judge is not privy to the professional engagements of his brother Atty. Buenaventura and to the clients whom  he represents in the same way that the latter  has no business whatsoever in the cases adjudicated by the Presiding Judge,” Judge Buenaventura said. 

Furthermore, Judge Buenaventura claimed that he  has no knowledge about Dayan’s recantation when he testified in another drug case then pending before Muntinlupa RTC Branch  204. 

However, Judge Buenaventura said that while the suspicion of the accused has no basis, this cannot be ignored since it already tarnished the integrity of the court. 

“For this reason, the undersigned Presiding Judge will exercise his discretion and will recuse himself from further hearing this case not because the allegations are true, but because it is avowed duty as member if the Bench to promoteconfidence in the judicial system,” the judge said. 

Judge Buenvantura ordered that the case be transmitted to the Muntinlupa RTC executive judge for re-raffle to the other branches for the continuation of the proceedings.

It can be recalled that on June 7, 2923, Judge Buenaventura denied  de Lima and his co-accused’s plea for bail in the conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading case.

 Specifically, de Lima and her co-accused were  charged by the prosecution for using  the  inmates of the  New Bilibid Prison (NBP)  in Muntinlupa City  to sell and trade illegal drugs by means of mobile phones and other electronic devices; receiving the proceeds thereof totaling to P70 million; and thereafter, conducting a raid inside the maximum security compound of the NBP to the exclusion of accused Jaybee Sebastian, thus, allowing him to control, centralize and monopolize the drug trade inside the NBP.     

Sebastian died inside the NBP on July 18, 2020.    

De Lima denied the charges and said she was a victim of political vendetta of then president Rodrigo Duterte who resented her opposition to the bloody anti-drug campaign  as well as human rights violations.    

Image credits: AP

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