RTC has exclusive power to try De Lima

Metro Flash News Weekly

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By Atty. Berteni Cataluña Causing, Civil Engineer

RTC has exclusive power 


to try De Lima



              Jurisdiction is one of the hottest issues among the legal circles and among other people who care to see what happens next in the criminal cases of violations of Republic Act 9165.
              Before going further, let us simplify what does jurisdiction mean.
And in so defining, let us limit it to the context of criminal cases already filed in courts. 
Let us not include in this discussion those criminal cases that are yet in the hands of the prosecutors for preliminary investigation or for summary investigation, which is popularly known as inquest proceedings.  
Let us also exclude in this discussion those criminal cases that are yet being developed by detectives of the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and by private law practitioners working for their respective clients’ criminal cases yet to be filed before the prosecutor’s offices.
In the context of the courts, jurisdiction is defined as the power to hear and the power to decide the cases.
Simple as that.
Before proceeding, let me state my conclusion in the case of De Lima.
The Regional Trial Court has the power to hear the criminal charges against De Lima.
The RTC also has the power to later decide whether the senator is guilty of these charges as supported by all the pieces of evidence to be presented by the prosecutors.
              Not only that.
              The power of the RTC is exclusive.         
Moreover, the Sandiganbayan does not even have the power to review the decisions of the RTC.               Consequent to the conclusion that it is the RTC that has the exclusive power to hear and decide the illegal drugs cases filed against the senator, then the power to hear and decide the appeal from the RTC is the Court of Appeals and not the Sandiganbayan.

The basis of the conclusion

              The justification why this write concluded that the RTC has the exclusive jurisdiction is the fact that Section 90 of Republic Act 9165 says it so.
              Let us read Section 90 of the same law, to wit:
              “Section 90. Jurisdiction. – The Supreme Court shall designate special courts from among the existing Regional Trial Courts in each judicial region to exclusively try and hear cases involving violations of this Act. The number of courts designated in each judicial region shall be based on the population and the number of cases pending in their respective jurisdiction.
“The DOJ shall designate special prosecutors to exclusively handle cases involving violations of this Act.
“The preliminary investigation of cases filed under this Act shall be terminated within a period of thirty (30) days from the date of their filing.
“When the preliminary investigation is conducted by a public prosecutor and a probable cause is established, the corresponding information shall be filed in court within twenty-four (24) hours from the termination of the investigation. If the preliminary investigation is conducted by a judge and a probable cause is found to exist, the corresponding information shall be filed by the proper prosecutor within forty-eight (48) hours from the date of receipt of the records of the case.
“Trial of the case under this Section shall be finished by the court not later than sixty (60) days from the date of the filing of the information. Decision on said cases shall be rendered within a period of fifteen (15) days from the date of submission of the case for resolution.”
              Take note of the statement of exclusivity.
              This section of RA 9165 states that the Supreme Court shall designate special courts from among the existing Regional Trial Courts in each judicial region to “exclusively” try and hear cases involving violations of this Act.
              The words “this Act” refers obviously to the law, Republic Act 9165.
              The law itself is clear that it limits only to the RTCs the choices of the courts to try cases of illegal drugs.

DOJ vs Ombudsman
              Another issue is on the preliminary investigation of cases spinning out of violations of Republic Act 9165.
              The team of Senator De Lima has announced their objection to what the Department of Justice (DOJ) did.
              The lawyers of De Lima argued that the DOJ should have not filed the case yet in court.
              It was as if De Lima lawyers insisted that after making their findings of probable cause, the DOJ should have first endorsed its conclusions to the Office of the Ombudsman.
              The theory of De Lima’s lawyers is that the acts being accused against the senator, if true, were committed in relation to her office as the Secretary then of the Department of Justice.
              So that if it is so, then the Ombudsman has the jurisdiction as against the Office of the City Prosecutors or the Department of Justice.
              The basis of De Lima’s lawyers is the law that requires that if the offense is related to the office of the offender as a public officer, then the preliminary investigation should be handled by the Office of the Ombudsman.
              With due respect, the lawyers of Senator De Lima are not correct.
              To begin with, there is no law that limits to Ombudsman only the authority to investigate cases committed in relation to the office.
              As clarified by Administrative Order No. 8 promulgated by the Office of the Ombudsman on November 2, 1990, the exclusive authority of the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate criminal cases is limited only to the condition that when the offense involved was to be filed against a public officer before the Sandiganbayan.
              And if a case is not to be filed with the Sandiganbayan because it is not covered by the law creating the Sandiganbayan and the offender is a public employee, then the Office of the City and Provincial Prosecutors and the Department of Justice prosecutors can have concurrent jurisdiction to conduct preliminary investigation for the purpose of knowing whether there is probable cause to elevate the case in court. 
Let us quote Administrative Order No. 8 of the Ombudsman, to wit:

“3. Offenses in ‘relation to office.’

“It has been noticed that several cases have been dismissed, or recommended for dismissal, for alleged lack of jurisdiction upon a finding that the offense was not committed by the respondent in relation to his office. This view has resulted in nullifying preliminary investigations conducted by regular or deputized Ombudsmen Investigators in such cases, thereby necessitating another preliminary investigation to be conducted by the appropriate regular prosecutors or Ombudsman investigators as the case may be. This handling of Ombudsman cases must have to be discontinued not merely because of its unfavourable results, but basically due to its not being in accordance with the applicable laws. A deputized Ombudsman prosecutor does not have to determine whether he is investigating a complaint filed against a public official or employee in his capacity as a regular prosecutor or as a deputized Ombudsman prosecutor. It must be remembered that all prosecutors are now deputized Ombudsman prosecutors.

“There is no law which limits the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman to cases against public officers and employees involving acts or omissions in ‘relation to their office.’

“Such a qualification is imposed only with respect to the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan over crimes included in section 4 (b) of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as the amended by Presidential Decree No. 1861. Stated differently, the need for showing that the crime is office related is only if the information for the crime involved is to be filed in the Sandiganbayan. If the case is for a violation of Republic Act 3019 or Republic Act 1379, or any of the crimes included in Chapter Two, Section Two, Title Seven of the Revised Penal Code (Arts. 210 to 212), the element of the offense being in relation to office is an inherent ingredient, and does not have to be shown independently of the crime charged.”

In addition, the exclusive jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to conduct preliminary investigation is limited only to cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan. 

If in the case of illegal drugs the law, RA 9165, limits the power to hear cases only to the RTCs designated by the Supreme Court, then the Sandigabayan is out of the picture.  And if it is so, the Ombudsman cannot even insist to be the one to hold a preliminary investigation of illegal drugs cases, like those filed against Senator De Lima.

However, even with whatever confusion there may be, the law on illegal drugs, Republic Act No. 9165, is very express and clear: in cases of illegal drugs under this Act, it is only the DOJ that has the exclusive authority to designate or authorize who should conduct the preliminary investigation.

              Let us quote again the pertinent part of Section 90 of RA 9165, to wit:
“The DOJ shall designate special prosecutors to exclusively handle cases involving violations of this Act.
“The preliminary investigation of cases filed under this Act shall be terminated within a period of thirty (30) days from the date of their filing.”

Hence, there is now no more issue that it is not correct for the lawyers of Senator De Lima to insist that the DOJ should have first endorsed the cases to the Ombudsman.  To the contrary, what is correct is what was done by the DOJ, filing of the three cases of illegal drugs before the Regional Trial Courts of Muntinlupa, considering the crimes were alleged to have happened inside the National Bilibid Prisons, which is within the territory of the City of Muntinlupa.
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