LEILA M. DE LIMA, RAFAEL MARCOS Z. RAGOS and RONNIE P. DAYAN, were accused of violation of Section 5, in relation to Section 3 (jj), Section 26 (b) and Section 28, Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Act of 2002, in Criminal Case No. 17-165, the Information of which reads:
That within the period from November 2012 to March 2013, in the City of Muntinlupa, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Leila M. De Lima, being then the Secretary of the Department of Justice, and accused Rafael Marcos Z. Ragos, being then the Officer-in-Charge of the Bureau of Corrections, by taking advantage of their public office, conspiring and confederating with accused Ronnie P. Dayan, being then the employee of the Department of Justice detailed to De Lima, all of them having moral ascendancy or influence over inmates in the New Bilibid Prison, did then and there commit illegal drug trading, in the following manner: De Lima and Ragos, with the use of their power, position, and authority demand, solicit and extort money from the high profile inmates in the New Bilibid Prison to support the Senatorial bid of De Lima in the May 2016 election; by reason of which, the inmates, not being lawfully authorized by law and through the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices, did then and there willfully and unlawfully trade and traffic dangerous drugs, and thereafter give and deliver to De Lima, through Ragos and Dayan, the proceeds of illegal drug trading amounting to Five Million (₱5,000,000.00) Pesos on 24 November 2012, Five Million (₱5,000,000.00) Pesos on 15 December 2012, and One Hundred Thousand (₱l00,000.00) Pesos weekly “tara” each from the high profile inmates in the New Bilibid Prison.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
Petitioner argues that, based on the allegations of the Information in Criminal Case No. 17-165, the Sandiganbayan has the jurisdiction to try and hear the case against her. She posits that the Information charges her not with violation of RA 9165 but with Direct Bribery-a felony within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan given her rank as the former Secretary of Justice with Salary Grade 31. For the petitioner, even assuming that the crime described in the Information is a violation of RA 9165, the Sandiganbayan still has the exclusive jurisdiction to try the case considering that the acts described in the Information were intimately related to her position as the Secretary of Justice.
The respondents, on the other hand, maintain that the RTC has exclusive jurisdiction to try violations of RA 9165, including the acts described in the Information against the petitioner. The Sandiganbayan, so the respondents contend, was specifically created as an anti-graft court. It was never conferred with the power to try drug-related cases even those committed by public officials. In fact, respondents point out that the history of the laws enabling and governing the Sandiganbayan will reveal that its jurisdiction was streamlined to address specific cases of graft and corruption, plunder, and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth.
Whether it is the Sandiganbayan or the RTC that has jurisdiction over the subject matter of Criminal Case No. 17-165, i.e., violation of RA 9165.
It is basic that jurisdiction over the subject matter in a criminal case is given only by law in the manner and form prescribed by law. It is determined by the statute in force at the time of the commencement of the action. Indeed, Congress has the plenary power to define, prescribe and apportion the jurisdiction of various courts. It follows then that Congress may also, by law, provide that a certain class of cases should be exclusively heard and determined by one court. Such would be a special law that is construed as an exception to the general law on jurisdiction of courts.
The pertinent special law governing drug-related cases is RA 9165. A plain reading of RA 9165, as of RA 6425, will reveal that jurisdiction over drug-related cases is exclusively vested with the Regional Trial Court and no other.
As this Court clarified in Quimvel v. People, the designation of the offense in the Information is a critical element required under Section 6, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court in apprising the accused of the offense being charged, viz.:
The offense charged can also be elucidated by consulting the designation of the offense as appearing in the Information. The designation of the offense is a critical element required under Sec. 6, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court for it assists in apprising the accused of the offense being charged. Its inclusion in the Information is imperative to avoid surprise on the accused and to afford him of the opportunity to prepare his defense accordingly. xxx
The exclusive original jurisdiction over violations of RA 9165 is not transferred to the Sandiganbayan whenever the accused occupies a position classified as Grade 27 or higher, regardless of whether the violation is alleged as committed in relation to office. The power of the Sandiganbayan to sit in judgment of high-ranking government officials is not omnipotent. The Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is circumscribed by law and its limits are currently defined and prescribed by RA 10660, which amended Presidential Decree No. (PD) 1606.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition for prohibition and certiorari is DISMISSED for lack of merit. The Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa City, Branch 204 is ordered to proceed with dispatch with Criminal Case N6.17-165.