By Vann Marlo M. Villegas
THE judge handling Sen. Leila M. De Lima’s drug case has inhibited herself, following after three judges who also handled that case only to inhibit themselves afterwards.
In a five-page order, Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo of Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 said her inhibition is “to show good faith to all parties concern(ed).”
“(T)he Court finds no sufficient ground to inhibit herself from conducting trial….(H)owever, in order to show good faith to all parties concern(ed) and being within the discretionary power of this Court, the undersigned presiding Judge recused herself from trying the case,” she said in the order.
In her Oct. 16 motion for Ms. Domingo’s inhibition, Ms. De Lima said the judge manifested “bias, partiality, and hostility” against her, since Ms. Domingo prematurely ruled against the senator’s motion to disqualify the witnesses of the Department of Justice without waiting for her Ms. De Lima’s reply.
Ms. Domingo said in her order that “there is no mistake to correct,” and she merely reiterated her previous order which stated that Ms. De Lima’s reply was “filed out of time.”
She added that the Court “is not bias(ed) in any way to any of the parties in this case.”
Ms. Domingo is the fourth Muntinlupa RTC judge to inhibit herself from Ms. De Lima’s case, after Judges Juanita Guerrero of Branch 204, Antonietta Pablo-Medina of Branch 276, and Myra Bayot-Quiambao of Branch 203.
Another judge, Patria Manalastas-De Leon of Branch 206, retired on Feb. 1 this year.
In a related development, Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed before the Office of the Ombudsman a criminal complaint against Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra and his predecessor, Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, over the allegedly illegal admission of felons as state witnesses in the case against her.
The detained Senator said the case against Mr. Aguirre stemmed from the House inquiry on the alleged illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), during which he presented 11 convicted felons as witnesses.
Ms. de Lima argued that admitting a criminal convicted over crimes involving moral turpitude under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program (WPSBP) is in violation of section 10(f) of Republic Act 6981, “WPSB Act,” Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code and Sec. 3(e) of RA 3019, Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“As a consequence of their having been admitted as State Witnesses under section 10 of RA 6981, the above-mentioned convicted criminals have also been granted immunity, albeit illegally, under section 12 of the same law,” the Senator said in her complaint-affidavit.
She also said the immunity resulted in the dismissal of the cases against the criminal convicts by the Department of Justice (DoJ).
The incumbent Secretary is likewise facing similar complaint for continuing the illegal admission of the criminals under the WPSBP, thereby granting them “unwarranted benefits.”
“Secretary Guevarra has also failed to indict the aforementioned convicted criminals for illegal drug trading despite their unequivocal admissions and confessions under oath,” she argued.
“The failure to file the necessary Information is a flagrant breach of duty on the part of the Secretary.” — with Charmaine A. Tadalan