De Lima decries ‘impunity virus’ on high-profile cases

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has deplored the ruling by the Court of Appeals (CA) absolving former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes in the 2011 murder of environmentalist and journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega.

In her Dispatch from Crame No. 219, De Lima cried foul over what she called the "judicial miracles of impunity" which has become commonplace in the present Duterte administration.

"Duterte's assumption to power appears to have inflicted the entire government and its justice system with the impunity virus. It was therefore only a matter of time before an innovative judge took it a step further by calling the rape of justice and the desecration of the rule of law a 'miracle' for all of us to behold," she said.

Last Jan. 5, Reyes was released from jail following the CA ruling that the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court had no basis to hold him for trial over Ortega's murder. It nullified the finding of probable cause and the issuance of an arrest warrant by the local court.

Ortega, a staunch critic of Reyes who accused the latter of misuse of Palawan funds, was gunned down by a hired gunman in January 2011.

The investigation on the murder led to the indictment of Reyes, who was pinpointed as the mastermind in the 2011 murder as well as other personalities connected to the Palawan provincial government.

Reyes was initially exonerated by a Department of Justice panel of investigators but De Lima, then justice secretary, rejected the decision and formed a second panel, which found prima facie evidence to indict Reyes.

De Lima criticized Justice Normandie Pizarro, whose written decision led to the acquittal of Reyes of the murder charge, saying the magistrate "must be living in a bizarro world when he fancies himself like Jesus Christ performing a 'miracle'; to give the accused Reyes a second chance in life."

Note that in Pizzaro's Ponencia, he called his own decision exonerating Reyes a "miracle" and a second lease on Reyes's life.

The former justice secretary also lamented the spate of "miracles" performed by the judiciary since Duterte assumed presidency, which she said exonerated the powerful, influential, and well-connected, either even before trial or after conviction by the trial court.

De Lima cited the cases of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, former President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles and her daughter Jeane Napoles, and former Senator Jinggoy Estrada, among others.

De Lima said the "judicial miracles" started with Enrile being granted bail by the Supreme Court (SC) in his plunder case, which was quickly followed by the complete exoneration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by the SC even before any trial in her plunder case is conducted by the Sandiganbayan.

She also mentioned the reversal by the Court of Appeals of Janet Lim Napoles's conviction for serious illegal detention or kidnapping, upon the instance of the Solicitor General himself.

De Lima cited as among the latest "miracles" the release of Estrada on bail despite previous rulings that the evidence of guilt against him for plunder is strong, and the dismissal of tax evasion charges against Napoles' high society-living daughter, Jeane.

She also noted other "miracles," such as the virtual historic exoneration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who was allowed a hero's burial by the SC, despite the Court's own past decisions that adjudged Marcos to have acquired ill-gotten wealth throughout his reign as dictator.

"To the powerful, influential, and well-connected who have stolen millions of public funds or murdered hundreds of citizens, these might seem to be heaven-sent miracles. But to the public that is already disgusted with the plethora of acquittals and pre-trial exonerations performed by the judiciary, this is already judicial impunity at its worst in the history of the country," De Lima said.

With the concerted congressional and executive attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who is trying to put things in order in the judiciary and fighting insidious moves to weaken said institution, De Lima warned about Sereno's eventual replacement with a minion of MalacaAang. If that happens, "we can all expect these judicial 'miracles' of impunity to become the new normal, in line with the unprecedented impunity promoted and perpetrated by the strongman and dictator-in-waiting Duterte," she said.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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