SENATOR Leila de Lima attends the hearing at Regional Trial Court Branch 204 in Muntinlupa City on Nov. 4, 2022. — PHILIPPINE STAR/RUSSELL PALMA

A JUDGE’s inhibition in the remaining illegal drug case of detained former Senator Leila M. de Lima upheld her right to an impartial court, according to a human rights lawyer.

“In fairness to the presiding judge, inhibition does not necessarily mean that the judge is indeed partial, but it becomes a prerogative in case a litigant doubt his impartiality,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Viber message.

“Because according to the Supreme Court, a ‘judge must be like Caesar’s wife — above suspicion and beyond reproach’.”

On June 15, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo S. Buenaventura granted the June 13 motions of Ms. De Lima’s former aides to stop handling the case after it was discovered that he is the brother of Emmanuel S. Buenaventura, who had helped execute the affidavits testifying against her.

Ronnie P. Dayan, one of the former aides, had since recanted his statement. He said he was coerced by the late former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo T. Umali to testify against Ms. De Lima.

The judge’s brother used to lawyer for Mr. Umali, which they said created a conflict of interest.

Mr. Cortez noted the judge had just received evidence in relation to Ms. De Lima’s petition bail and not yet the main evidence for the illegal drug case, which means there is no sign of a violation against the former lawmaker’s right to due process.

He said there might be a slight delay in the case since the case will be re-raffled to another judge, which would then lead to another court hearing.

Last week, Ms. De Lima appealed the court’s denial of her bail plea. The Muntinlupa court had rejected her motion for bail saying it could not overlook testimonial evidence against the former senator.

The former lawmaker’s lawyers said the court should have used the basis of probable cause instead of relying on the evidence of guilt being strong in deciding on the bail plea. 

Four witnesses have retracted their testimonies against the former lawmaker. They all claimed to have been coerced by the previous administration. The court dismissed a separate illegal drug trafficking case against Ms. De Lima and Mr. Dayan on May 12, citing reasonable doubt.

“Senator De Lima will have another chance to confront the witnesses against her and to present evidence to refute those presented by the prosecution,” Mr. Cortez said.John Victor D. Ordoñez