SC justice refutes De Lima accusations

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JUSTICE Presbitero Velasco

MANILA — Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. vehemently denied the allegation of detained Senator Leila de Lima that he “pushed for the acquittal of convicted drug lord German Agojo when the Supreme Court division deliberated on the case in 2009.”

In a statement, Velasco made a comment on De Lima’s motion asking the Supreme Court to inhibit him (Velasco) from the deliberation of her petition seeking release from detention and stop her indictment for drug trading charges.

In a 10-page motion filed by her lawyer, Alexander Padilla, De Lima said Velasco is “unfit to decide the case at bar due to conflict of interest” as she cited his prior actuations in connection with the case of German Agojo in 2009.

She said that Velasco, who was a member of the division that handles the said case, initially disagreed with the decision of the rest of the division composed of then Associate Justices Dante Tinga (the ponente of the decision), Leonardo Quisumbing, ConchitaCarpio-Morales and Arturo Brion and pushed for Agojo’s acquittal.

Alleged mastermind

Agojo was convicted by the Tanauan Regional Trial Court (RTC) in 1999 for selling methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. In 2007, the lower court’s ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals and subsequently, the SC.

He was allegedly the mastermind behind the 2004 killing of Judge Voltaire Rosales who convicted him on the drug charges.

“The inordinate link and actuations of Justice Velasco with regard to German Agojo will significantly taint the credibility of the impending decision of the Honorable Supreme Court if he is to participate in the deliberations of the instant case and permitted to signify his position accordingly,” read the motion.

“It is settled in our jurisprudence that the cold neutrality of an impartial judge is an essential part of due process. Thus, it is necessary for the judge to reassure litigants of his being fair and being just,” De Lima said in her motion.

De Lima said Velasco eventually joined the majority decision but said that the deliberation by the high court on the said case was revealed to Agojo and that “there were intimations that the leak was made by no less than Justice Velasco” since he was the only one who voted in favor of Agojo.

The High Court affirmed the conviction of Agojo. Justice Velasco did not file any dissent to the ponencia of now retired Justice Dante O. Tinga nor verbally move for Agojo’s acquittal. Justice Tinga clarified that the deliberation on the Agojo case was very “uneventful.”

Vitug story

Justice Velasco said he does not know nor has he met Mr. Agojo and has no relationship whatsoever with the alleged drug lord.

Velasco said that the claim of Senator De Lima was anchored on a news report written by Marites Vitug, who was charged before the Regional Trial Court of Manila by him for libel for her false and libelous remarks. Out of compassion, Justice Velasco later decided to drop the charges.

“The attempt of Senator De Lima to inhibit could simply be an attempt on her part to gain an advantage in connection with her pending case before the Supreme Court involving illegal drug trade and/or conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade,” the magistrate said in a statement.

The senator, who is currently detained at the PNP Custodial Center, also argued that the allegations against her do not actually constitute sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act), but rather only direct bribery if based on the evidence filed by the DOJ.

— Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/PNA

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