Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 February 2018


Today marks the first anniversary of the confinement of Sen. Leila de Lima in the PNP jail in Camp Crame. Tomorrow marks the 32nd anniversary of the People Power Revolution at Edsa.

Is there a connection between the two? It may not be obvious yet to many, but there are increasing similarities. We came together at Edsa to unseat a dictator who abused all the powers at his command to deal with his enemies. De Lima is the victim of a President who has not hesitated to use all the powers at his command—executive, legislative and judicial—to destroy her.

It seems we have come full circle.

Thirty-two years after the Edsa People Power Revolution, the people are again faced with the same threats—to life, to liberty, to free speech. Déjà vu.

This column is the third in a series I have written, starting Feb. 3, in protest against what has been done to De Lima by the combined efforts of the executive, the legislature, and (the subject of today’s column) the judiciary—three supposedly independent and coequal branches of government.

How has the judiciary joined this not-so-secret cabal against De Lima? Let’s start with the Regional Trial Courts. The RTC accepted with alacrity the Department of Justice’s charges, which as we know were based on testimony by convicted felons who had every reason to cooperate with the DOJ.

What is more, the charges against De Lima were for illegal trade in drugs, which requires that the evidence should include “the essential elements of the offense charged” (names of buyers, sellers, and the most essential: the illegal drugs traded). No such evidence. But there was no hesitation on the part of the judge to order De Lima arrested.

Let’s go to the Court of Appeals. De Lima went to the CA, appealing the preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ panel of prosecutors. What was wrong? Well, per De Lima, they kept issuing verbal orders (afraid to write them down); then she wasn’t allowed to file a counteraffidavit; then there was no written record of the proceedings, no stenographer. Can you imagine? What did the CA do? Absolutely nothing. She filed in January 2017, and there has been no action other than minor resolutions—asking to reply, consolidating, etc. One year, and they can’t do anything?

But it is the Supreme Court, the last resort, the defender of democracy, etc., which deserves the most attention.

My column of Oct. 28, 2017, dealt with the Supreme Court decision (still under motion for reconsideration) giving its imprimatur to the RTC’s actions with regard to De Lima (six justices dissented). The justices in the majority, in their previous decisions, had repeatedly ruled (as pointed out by dissenting Justice Antonio Carpio) that the information must allege all the essential elements. Yet in the De Lima case, they conveniently forgot that rule.

The latest on this is that the RTC judge, before she recused herself, allowed the DOJ to “amend” the charges against De Lima. The illegal trade in drugs is no more. Now she is charged with “conspiracy to trade in drugs.” In effect, she was in jail, for almost a year, for a wrong charge.

But that is not all. De Lima had also gone to the Supreme Court to ask for a “legislative furlough.” There was precedent for this: The Supreme Court and the Sandiganbayan had granted a legislative furlough for various reasons less related to actual legislation or governance—holidays, dental appointments, funerals. De Lima had wanted to vote on important legislation and attend specific Senate hearings.

She made her first request on June 8 last year, and followed it up with four other requests, all of which were NOTED by the Supreme Court, usually a month or more after the request (for example: She received on Nov. 12 a notice of a Supreme Court resolution dated Sept. 19 that it was going to NOTE her request).

Why the discrimination, not to mention the absolute lack of courtesy? Not once was she allowed, while others who asked were granted permission.

If the Supreme Court had acted on her request of November 2016 (before she was arrested) for a writ of habeas data, perhaps none of this would ever have happened.

An independent judiciary? Or one vulnerable to “improper government influence”? You decide, Reader.