Muntinlupa court dismisses contempt case vs De Lima, lawyer

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) — A Muntinlupa court has dismissed for lack of merit a petition to cite detained Senator Leila de Lima and her lawyer Filibon Tacardon for indirect contempt.

Government prosecutors filed the petition in late 2020, saying De Lima and Tacardon violated the sub judice rule that bars parties to a case from discussing the merits of the lawsuit in public to avoid influencing its outcome.

Tacardon previously shared statements made by two prosecution witnesses from PDEA and AMLC that they did not find suspicious transactions that would tie De Lima to the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 presiding judge Gener Gito, in a decision released to journalists on Friday, said what Tacardon told the media merely repeated the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, therefore the court did not find malice in the statements.

"The statements and utterances of Atty. Tacardon to the media would hardly meet the level of gravity of the statement, utterances, and writings of those involved in those cases," the decision read.

It added, "If respondent Atty. Tacardon cannot be punished for those statements, the same can be said true likewise for Senator Leila de Lima."

Gito said that for comments to be considered as contempt of court, a "clear and present danger" to the administration of justice must exist.

"The Court is of the view that the statements made by respondent Atty. Tacardon did not create a 'clear and present danger' to the administration of justice," the presiding judge added.

In a statement, De Lima called the court’s ruling a triumph for free expression, transparency and the public's right to know.

“It was a baseless and frivolous petition from the very start, designed to further silence me and my lawyers and to prevent us from relaying to the public how the prosecution cases are crumbling before the court,” she said in a statement.

The senator said the dismissal of the petition, together with the recent retractions of testimonies against her, should convince the Department of Justice to review her cases and “decide if there is any merit or honor at all in prosecuting an innocent person.”

De Lima, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug war, has been in detention since 2017 for allegedly abetting an illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary during her term as Justice Secretary in the Aquino administration. She maintained her innocence and accused the government of fabricating cases against her.

She was acquitted in one of her three drug cases in February last year, while two others are pending.

Recently, self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa, former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, and De Lima's former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan all withdrew their testimonies against the senator, claiming they were coerced by government officials to implicate her.