By Jonathan Hicap
A Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court judge reprimanded government prosecutors for failing to bring their first witness in the case of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading filed against detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
During a hearing on Sept. 4, Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo of the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 chided prosecutors for their failure to produce retired police director Benjamin Magalong, who is the government’s first witness in case 17-167.
In a pre-trial order issued by the court, Magalong was supposed to testify on Sept. 4. However, the prosecution filed a manifestation dated Aug. 28 requesting for a change in the sequence in the presentation of witnesses.
It requested that former policeman Engelberto Durano, who is serving a sentence of reclusion perpetua for murder and frustrated murder, be the first witness.
Lawyer Filibon Tacardon, one of De Lima’s lawyers, said they only learned of the request when they went to the court last Aug. 31.
In the case, De Lima, former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Ronnie Dayan, Joenel Sanchez, Wilfredo Elli, prisoner Jaybee Nino Sebastian and Jose Adrian Dera are accused of conspiring to commit illegal drug trading using prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa and getting P70 million. Elli and Dera are still at large.
De Lima was arraigned last July 27 but refused to enter a plea, prompting the court to enter a “not guilty” plea on her behalf.
The case was based on the complaint filed by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officers Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala.
Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo Jr. explained that they wanted to present Durano first after learning in the last hearing that Bucayu, Dayan and Sanchez were filing petitions for bail.
“In our assessment and it is the strategy of the prosecution, we have to change the sequence. We found that the testimony of Durano is strong enough to oppose the petition for bail, sensitive to the rights of the petitioners that the bail is summary in nature,” he said.
The prosecution will present Magalong in the next hearing on Sept. 11.
Meanwhile, De Lima’s camp has filed a motion with the court to disqualify 13 witnesses of the prosecution who are “convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude,” citing Section 10 of Republic Act 6981 or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.
The 13 state witnesses, who are all serving sentences of reclusion perpetua, are Nonilo Arile, who was convicted for murder and kidnapping; Jojo Baligad, murder;
Herbert Colanggo, robbery with homicide; Durano, frustrated murder and murder; Rodolfo Magleo, kidnapping for ransom; Vicente Sy, illegal sale and delivery of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu); Hans Tan, robbery and direct assault with murder; Froilan Trestiza, kidnapping; Peter Co, illegal sale and delivery of shabu; Noel Martinez, kidnapping for ransom; Joel Capones, homicide; German Agojo, illegal sale and delivery of shabu; and Jaime Patcho, kidnapping for ransom.