De Lima, lawyer seek dismissal contempt case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — Senator Leila de Lima and her lawyer Boni Tacardon have asked a Muntinlupa court to dismiss the contempt case filed against them by government lawyers over their statements on the testimonies of witnesses in one of her drug cases.

In separate comments filed on March 1, De Lima and Tacardon asked the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 to "outrightly dismiss" the case as their statements did not present any threat to the drug charge.

"In the words of the Prosecution themselves, what they only fear is that the said 'statements' will 'persuade, influence, intimidate, incite perception and sentiments of their colleagues and other government officials, including the trial court judges'," Tacardon said.

"Truth be told, the petition does not in any way point to the actual effect of 'statements' to the Honorable Court. There has been no proof presented that Honorable Judge [Liezel] Aquiatan has been influenced, particularly in favor of respondent in her criminal case owing to the alleged 'statements'," he added.

Meanwhile, the detained senator said the Omnibus Order issued by Judge Liezel Aquiatan last February showed her comments did not endanger the administration of justice in the drug case.

"A plain reading of both Omnibus Orders issued by the trial court in Crim. Case Nos. 17-165 and 17-166 [c]learly shows that the trial court labored under no undue pressure arising from any purported tendency of Respondent's statements to influence, intimidate, impede, embarrass, or obstruct the trial court's administration of justice," she said.

Government lawyers asked the court last December to cite De Lima and Tacardon in contempt, saying Tacardon's previous statements before the media are an "affront to the lawful proceedings" of the court.

De Lima's camp argued the statements merely showed how a financial investigator from the Anti-Money Laundering Council and a digital forensic examiner from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency have reaffirmed under oath that the senator was not involved in any suspicious transaction in relation to the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

"At any rate, contrary to Petitioner's claim that Respondent intentionally and maliciously misinformed the public, the transcript of stenographic notes show that 'statements' attributed to the latter were factual and are consistent with what transpired during the hearings," Tacardon said.

De Lima also noted that her lawyers' out-of-court statements are an essential exercise of her constitutional right to a public trial considering the severe restrictions on public access to her hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Lima has been detained since 2017 on allegations she used drug money to fund her senatorial campaign in 2016.

The former justice secretary was recently acquitted in one of her three drug cases.