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MARIE YUVIENCO | Anything but a coward: no wheelchairs and medical miracles for Leila
The online news portal of TV5

Someone who used to wear a neck brace must be experiencing a bit of Schadenfreude after Leila de Lima was slapped with three criminal charges of allegedly receiving bribes from drug lords.

Schadenfreude is a handy word invented by the Germans to refer to the pleasure one feels from someone else’s bad luck. When she was Justice Secretary, de Lima was quite the feisty bureaucrat, so combative that she even defied a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court. 

The prospect that she could be held administratively liable hardly fazed her, as indeed later on she would be charged with contempt and have complaints for disbarment filed against her. Now the wheel has turned. This time, it’s her turn to be at the mercy of another Secretary of Justice, this time Vitaliano Aguirre, who the law regards as the alter-ego of de Lima’s best enemy, President Duterte.

What makes Senator de Lima’s case quite prickly is that at she will have to seek recourse with the same Supreme Court that she had defied earlier. Three criminal informations have been filed against her in the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa for allegedly violating Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002. The essence of the three informations is that the senator allegedly took advantage of her position as Secretary of Justice to extort millions of pesos from drug lords detained at the New Bilibid Prison to fund her running for senator during the national elections last year.

She has filed motions to quash the three informations before the RTC judge and the thing she has to watch out for is a warrant of arrest against her. Pending that, as a lawyer, she has to allow for the possibility that the trial court judge might deny her motions. Should that happen, she has the option of filing what is called a petition for certiorari before a superior court, the substance of which will be that the lower court gravely abused its discretion in denying her motions to quash.

There are two questions here.

First, where should she file? Should she go to the Court of Appeals first, or should she file directly with the Supreme Court? Both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have what is called concurrent jurisdiction, so technically, a petitioner can file in either. However, the Supreme Court made it clear in the Marcos Libingan ng mga Bayani case that parties should observe the principle of hierarchy of courts -- what the principle says basically is that, except in rare meritorious cases, litigants must seek recourse first with the lower courts before proceeding to the Supreme Court which, after all, is the court of last resort. In other words, a party should be discouraged from bypassing the Court of Appeals if no good reason exists for him to do so.

One cannot discount the possibility that it might be a tactical error for Senator de Lima to file with the Supreme Court directly. Her case might be dismissed on a technicality -- failure to observe the hierarchy of courts -- plus the possibility that there might be some resentment leftover from the senator’s disobedience of a temporary restraining order issued by the Court might play a factor. The irony isn’t lost on anyone that she will be asking for relief from the court whose authority she had flagrantly disregarded.

The second -- and more important -- question is: does she have ground to ask that the criminal cases against her be halted by an injunction? As a matter of policy, courts will not issue writs of injunction or restraining orders to stop the progress of a criminal case. The reason is common sense: the innocence or guilt of a person is best determined in a full-blown trial in which both parties have the chance to present their evidence. Just as the accused should be given the opportunity to prove his or her innocence, the State should have an equal opportunity to establish otherwise. The process should not be short-changed, though that has not stopped a number of defendants from trying.

However, when the filing of a criminal case in court is clearly a case of persecution, not prosecution, then a superior court may issue an injunction to put a stop to the proceedings. This, however, rarely happens because persecution is a matter of perspective.

I know of no defendant who does not feel he or she is the subject of persecution. In Senator de Lima’s case, though, given the abuse she has been receiving from President Duterte, all of which have made the news, such an allegation is not without basis. Add to that the fact that the witnesses who have implicated her, I am sorry to say, are not exactly paragons of virtue. But then again, their truthfulness and reliability are perhaps best tested in a regular trial.

One thing is sure, though.

No neck braces for her, she says, no wheelchairs, no hospital arrests, no nothing. That’s ballsy. 

The people have grown cynical of politicians who were otherwise in good health ante-arrest suddenly contracting life-threatening illnesses when faced with detention, only to be miraculously cured once the threat passes. It’s more miraculous than Medjugorje, I say.  We will be seeing none of that with Leila de Lima which, we have to admit, may be accused of many things, but not of cowardice.