De Lima welcomes inhibition of judge handling her drug case in Muntinlupa

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima has welcomed the decision of a Muntinlupa judge to inhibit herself from hearing one of the two remaining drug cases she is facing.

Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 opted out of case 17-165, filed by the Department of Justice in 2017, which accused De Lima and Ronnie Dayan of conspiring to commit illegal drug trading in violation of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Senator Leila de Lima at the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice last February to attend a hearing (Facebook / Leila de Lima / MANILA BULLETIN)

De Lima and Dayan are accused of getting P10 million from New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates in Muntinlupa in November and December, 2012.

“We welcome Judge Aquiatan’s voluntary inhibition from handling my case. This is an opportunity to have a presiding judge who will dispense true justice in this case without fear or favor,” said De Lima.

Aquiatan is the fifth judge who voluntarily inhibited from De Lima’s cases. Two other judges filed for early retirement, which brings to a total of seven judges who exited from the cases.

In her decision dated June 14, Aquiatan ruled that “the Motion for Reconsideration filed by accused Leila De Lima y Magistrado is hereby granted. The Presiding Judge hereby voluntarily recuses herself from further hearing the instant case.”

Aquiatan first issued an order denying De Lima’s motion for voluntary inhibition, prompting De Lima to file a motion for reconsideration last May 24, saying that the judge brushed aside without any serious consideration the clear grounds that she raised questioning her impartiality and moral courage in continuing to preside over the case.

In her recent motion, De Lima cited what she believed as Aquiatan’s “despotic manner” in refusing to consider the arguments in her unopposed motion for bail “on the grossly erroneous premise that the Demurrer to Evidence ‘already amply covered everything.’”

The senator said Aquiatan admitted that she did not consider the arguments in the Motion for Bail in the belief that the Demurrer to Evidence “already covered everything,” which makes it clear she might not have actually read the motion for bail, for it raised issues that are appropriate for bail, but not for demurrer.

In her motion for voluntary inhibition, De Lima presented evidence, which she claimed, showed the lopsidedness of the presiding judge’s orders.

De Lima said Aquiatan failed to uphold her duty to dismiss the drug case despite the failure of prosecution to present sufficient competent evidence that would link her in the illegal drug trade inside the NBP, stressing that “there was no evidence whatsoever of any overt act of conspiracy.”

“How can there be conspiracy when the very elements of illegal drug trading itself – the drug traded, its quantity, the identity of the buyer and seller, and the consideration of the illegal drug sale – were not proven at all,” De Lima added.

De Lima also pointed out that the judge was attempting to find evidence of her guilt by proving the guilt of persons who are not even on trial, and who have all testified under oath that they never had any dealings with her.

The senator's camp claimed that a clear indication that the judge bent backwards to justify her continued detention was Aquiatan's directive found at the end of the Feb. 17, 2021 Omnibus Order, stating that De Lima’s acquittal is conditioned on defending the wisdom of decisions made by a high-level inter-agency task force that included the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, and other agencies in 2014 when the case is about alleged delivery of money in 2012, two full years before the Bilibid raid.

“Clearly, the judge was not only grasping at straws, she was borrowing events from the future to hide the total absence of evidence, ignoring that those are outside the coverage of the case before her,” said De Lima.

In a 70-page Motion for Reconsideration of the denial of demurrer filed last Feb. 22, which Aquiatan also denied, De Lima accused Aquiatan of cherry picking to suit the prosecution’s narrative, while totally disregarding the arguments and cross-examinations conducted by her counsels.

On the other hand, Aquiatan granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence in case 17-166, which dismissed the charges against her.