MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed the petition filed by Senator Leila De Lima seeking to nullify the arrest warrant issued by a Muntinlupa court in connection with the illegal drug trafficking charges filed against her and to order her immediate release from detention.

SC spokesman Theodore Te, in a briefing, announced the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.

Te said the magistrates voted 9-6 to junk de Lima’s petition for lack of merit.

“The SC, 9-6, voted to dismiss the petition of Senator Leila De Lima. There are 11 separate opinions (five concurring, six dissenting) Summary to be released as soon as dissents and concurrences are released,” Te said.

Those who voted to junk De Lima's petition were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes and Alexander Gesmundo.

Velasco wrote the decision which was concurred in by the majority of the justices.

On the other hand, those who voted in favor of granting De Lima's petition were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, and Benjamin Caguioa.

The high court said it is the Regional Trial Court that has jurisdiction over the Information that charges petitioner with violation of Section 5 in relation to Section (jj), Section 26(b), and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165.

The Court did not agree with petitioner’s characterization of the offense as “Direct Bribery” under the Revised Penal Code but maintained that the allegations in the Information are sufficient to characterize the offense as a violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act (RA 9165). For this reason, the Court pointed out that RA 9165 specified only one court with jurisdiction to try offenses under the law, the Regional Trial Court.

It also noted that the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC over violations of RA 9165 is not transferred to the Sandiganbayan whenever the accused occupies a position classified as Grade 27 or higher, regardless of whether the violation is alleged to have been committed in relation to the office being occupied. The Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is limited to violations of the anti-graft laws and do not extend to violations of the drugs law.

The SC also said found that Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 did not gravely abuse her discretion in finding probable cause to order the petitioner’s arrest.

The Court noted that there was no positive duty on the part of respondent judge to first resolve petitioner’s motion to quash before issuing a warrant of arrest, noting that there is no rule of procedure, statute, or jurisprudence to support this claim.

On the other hand, it pointed to Rule 112, Sec. 5 of the Rules of Court which imposes a 10-day period from the filing of the charge for the judge to personally evaluate the resolution of the prosecutor and the supporting evidence. For this reason, the Court found that respondent judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed order dated February 23, 2017 even before resolving petitioner’s Motion to Quash.

The Court also found that the text of respondent judge’s order did not violate petitioner’s constitutional rights and is not contrary to established jurisprudence on determining probable cause.

It also disagreed with petitioner’s assertion that respondent judge did not personally determine probable cause for the issuance of the warrant of arrest simply because the judge relied on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation and not on the report and supporting documents submitted by the prosecution.

The Court noted that respondent judge considered all the evidence presented at the preliminary investigation and not simply the report and the supporting evidence the prosecution proposed to present at the trial, which was based on the evidence presented during the preliminary investigation. It cannot be said that the respondent judge was remiss in her duty to determine probable cause personally.

It noted the affidavits of NBI Agent Jovencio Ablen, petitioner’s co-accused Rafael Ragos, and convicted felon Peter Co, all of which outline a case for illegal drug trading committed in conspiracy with petitioner and her co-accused.

The SC also ruled that, procedurally, petitioner had violated the rule on hierarchy of courts and the prohibition against forum shopping and that her petition was also premature. The Court also found that the petition was not properly executed under oath and that the jurat (certification) was defective for not having subscribed to the same in the presence of the notary public

De Lima will have to remain in detention at the Camp Crame Custodial Center while her three drug cases are being heard by three branches of the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa City.

Last week, De Lima filed a last-minute motion seeking inhibition of Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. due to alleged "conflict of interest" over his "prior actuations" in the case of convicted drug lord German Agojo, one of the witnesses against the senator in the drug cases.

But Velasco rejected the plea, saying he dis not vote in favor of Agojo when the case was decided by the SC.

The magistrate stressed that De Lima's allegation was based on a report by online journalist Marites Vitug whom he earlier sued for libel.

De Lima filed her petition last February and asked the high court to stop her indictment before the Muntinlupa RTC by the DOJ for allegedly benefitting from illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.

She sought issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the proceedings in the drug cases against her and status quo ante order on the arrest warrant issued last week by Muntinlupa City regional trial court branch 204 that would allow her release from detention.

In the drug cases, De Lima is accused of receiving around PHP10 million in drug payoffs from November 2012 to early 2013 through her co-accused, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos.

De Lima was arrested last Feb. 24 by virtue of the arrest warrant issued by the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 204.

The ruling is not yet final as De Lima can still file a motion for reconsideration. (PNA)