De Lima case: Calida fights like Mayweather
Singapore—Solicitor General Jose Calida promised an instant knockout at last March 28’s Supreme Court hearing. Yet he parried like Floyd Mayweather instead of setting up a Manny Pacquiao left straight. But Mayweather won that fight.
Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay previously argued that drug trading charges against Sen. Leila de Lima do not detail the drugs sold, unconstitutionally making her defense impossible.
Hilbay argued further that cases related to senior officials’ powers must be heard by the Sandiganbayan. De Lima allegedly forced Bilibid inmates to sell drugs, something only a justice secretary could do. Thus, her trial court case is void.
Calida had a simple strategy: Keep the Supreme Court focused on procedural rules. While unexciting, this was brilliant after he saw multiple justices grill Hilbay on procedure.
Calida’s opening contrasted starkly with Hilbay’s. He claimed De Lima’s petition is invalid because she presigned her petition before meeting the notary.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio incredulously asked if De Lima needed to sign again in front of the notary. Calida insisted notarial rules require this.
Calida kept returning to how De Lima filed a “motion to quash” her arrest warrant before the trial judge. She asked the Supreme Court to void it even before the judge ruled, undeniably and glaringly violating Supreme Court rules.
Calida deflected debates outside procedure.
Justice Marvic Leonen questioned how some affidavits against De Lima cited hearsay witnesses had no personal knowledge of.
Calida replied the Supreme Court must only examine the charges’ validity and leave the judge to weigh the evidence. This evaded Leonen’s point that a judge must ensure a minimum level of actual evidence before allowing charges to be filed.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno read out affidavits and argued only a justice secretary could offer the described perks to inmates.
Calida countered obliquely that public office is not an element of a drug crime unlike, say, malversation.
He admitted he had not read the affidavits, not even one that mentioned him.
Justice Francis Jardeleza outlined a constitutional due process right to be tried by a court that actually has jurisdiction. Lack of jurisdiction is so serious that the Supreme Court must rule on it.
Calida repeatedly insisted there is no constitutional issue.
Veteran judges such as former Sandiganbayan presiding justice Diosdado Peralta bolstered Calida. He cited how Quezon Mayor Ronnie Mitra was caught in 2001 moving 498 kilos of shabu in an ambulance. He was charged in a trial court, not the Sandiganbayan.
Calida nodded and thanked such questioners.
Calida clearly won the battle to frame public opinion. News reports focused on notarization and procedural minutiae. None asked if drug charges with no drugs are valid, or even mentioned Jardeleza’s due process argument, despite his prowess with high level rights arguments.
Despite Hilbay’s efforts, De Lima’s case moved away from the charges’ validity. Her best bet may be to insist on Sandiganbayan jurisdiction to void the trial court’s warrant, and hope justices prefer this to sending the case back to the trial judge.
Lawyer Rodel Rodis’ April Fools’ Day column is an embarrassment of fake law and actual malice. He argues the 2015 Arnado case barred Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano from being Taguig city councilor in 1991 because he was born a Filipino-American dual citizen.
But third year law students know the Arnado case itself says it applies to duals by naturalization, not duals by birth.
Rodis knows duals by birth can run under the famous 1999 case of Edu Manzano penned by the legendary justice Vicente V. Mendoza. Rodis wrote a 2015 Philippine Tribune column on how the Manzano case upheld a Filipino-American dual by birth’s election as Makati vice mayor.
My column last week discussed how Rodis previously cited a nonexistent constitutional provision to claim Cayetano lost Philippine citizenship when he turned 21.
Last week, I mistakenly named my friend Nilo Divina as former UST Law dean, despite his second reappointment.
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