By Jonathan Hicap
Former police director Benjamin Magalong on Tuesday testified at the first day of trial in the case of conspiracy to trade illegal drugs filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against detained Sen. Leila de Lima and six others.
Magalong, former head of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), is one of the witnesses of the prosecution to shed light on case 17-167 filed before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206.
The senator, former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Ronnie Dayan, Joenel Sanchez, Wilfredo Elli, prisoner Jaybee Nino Sebastian and Jose Adrian Dera are facing charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading using prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa and getting P70 million.
At the trial, Magalong said the CIDG was left out when the DOJ, then headed by De Lima, conducted a raid at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa in December 2014.
Prosecutor Darwin Cañete said Magalong “was testifying on the fact that CIDG had a case build-up, made ‘Oplan Cronus, but the problem was during the execution, they were not included. Not all the targets in the original plan were isolated.”
He cited the so-called “Bilibid 19,” who were NBP prisoners transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detention center in 2014.
“Why they were already named, why were they not included (in the transfer)?” said Cañete, referring to Sebastian.
But De Lima’s camp welcomed Magalong’s testimony.
“What is more important in his testimony is that he reiterated the fact that the raid conducted by the DOJ last December 2014 was very successful in a sense that kung ano man yung target at objective ng Oplan Cronus was achieved and implemented by the DOJ and other agencies involved in that raid,” said De Lima’s legal counsel Filibon Tacardon.
On the other hand, the prosecution claimed victory when they announced that Sebastian pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to trade illegal drugs during his arraignment last Sept. 4 at the NBP courthouse.
“Jaybee Sebastian was convicted, he pleaded guilty as a conspirator to the crime with Senator De Lima. Meron ng conviction ang prosecution panel,” said Cañete.
Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo Jr. said this “is a partial victory on the part of the Filipino people. It only shows that there exists a drug trading within and outside the penitentiary.”
However, he said, the prosecution was directed by the court to present evidence to prove Sebastian’s guilt.
Ocampo said Sebastian’s guilty plea was voluntary despite that he was informed that he could face life imprisonment.
“I think it is a sign of remorse on the part of Jaybee Sebastian when he pleaded guilty,” he said.
Raymond Baguilat, one of De Lima’s lawyers, noted that before Sebastian’s arraignment, the prisoner filed a motion asking the court for his transfer from NBP’s Building 14 because of a threat to his life. The court denied Sebastian’s request.
“Yun lang yung worry namin na baka talagang may threat din talaga sa life niya,” Baguilat said.
The defense maintains its opposition to the charges of conspiracy to trade illegal drugs, saying it is an entirely different case from the original case of illegal drug trading filed by the DOJ.
In the next trial, the prosecution will present Supt. Jerry Valeroso.