MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima and two others for drug charges on Thursday, February 23.
Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 issued the warrant, members of the senator's staff confirmed Thursday afternoon.
"After a careful evaluation of the herein Information and all the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation conducted in this case by the Department of Justice, Manila, the Court finds sufficient probable cause for the issuance of Warrants of Arrest against Leila M. de Lima, Rafael Marcos Z. Ragos and Ronnie Palisoc Dayan," the order read.
Ragos is former Bureau of Corrections chief while Dayan is the former driver and boyfriend of De Lima, her alleged "bagman" who dealt with New Bilibid Prison drug operators when she was justice secretary.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said in an interview on dzMM that the warrant can be served "any time of the day," even beyond 5 pm on Thursday.
De Lima's lawyer, Alex Padilla, described the development as "funny and sad" because of the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the warrant. He cited the fact that the De Lima camp had filed a motion to quash with the court which has yet to be heard.
"Parang nakakatawa na nakakalungkot. Puwede namang mangyari na mag-issue ng arrest warrant bago ang hearing ng motions pero nakakaduda kasi high-profile case ito. Malinaw na may motion to quash, sana binasa muna. Wala akong ibang maisip kundi pre-judgment on the part of the judge," Padilla said.
(It seems funny and sad at the same time. The issuance of the arrest warrant could really happen before the hearing of the motions, but it's suspicious because this is a high-profile case. It's clear that there's a motion to quash, it should have been read first. I can't think of anything else other than this is a pre-judgment on the part of the judge.)
De Lima's Senate staff said their camp was surprised by the issuance of the warrant that day, since the judge concerned reportedly just returned from a Macau trip.
The DOJ filed 3 criminal complaints before the court against De Lima, accusing her of violating Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which penalizes the "sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs."
Violators face 12 years to life imprisonment and fines range from P500,000 to P10 million.
The charges were filed 5 months after a sensational House inquiry initiated by administration allies, where Bilibid convicts were allowed to testify on De Lima's alleged transactions with them. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)
De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, had earlier dismissed the charges as "plain and simple political persecution."
She had also said that she had prepared herself to be the "first political prisoner under this regime."
The senator had said on many occasions that the Chief Executive had a "personal vendetta" against her, dating back to when she was chief of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Duterte was still Davao City mayor.
De Lima first drew Duterte's ire when she led investigations into his ties to the so-called Davao Death Squad back when she was CHR chair under the Arroyo administration.
As a senator and then chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, she initiated an investigation into the spate of killings in the Duterte administration's war on drugs, triggering attacks from the President and his allies on her alleged drug links. – Camille Elemia and Lian Buan/Rappler.com