De Lima dismayed at court denial of disqualification request on drug case state witnesses

By Jonathan Hicap

Detained Senator Leila de Lima was dismayed at a Muntinlupa court’s hasty decision to deny her motion seeking to disqualify 13 convicts as state witnesses in a drug case.

According to De Lima, Acting Presiding Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 violated her own order giving her a period to reply to the opposition of the prosecution panel to the motion.

Senator Leila de Lima (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco / MANILA BULLETIN) Senator Leila de Lima (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco / MANILA BULLETIN)

Instead of waiting for De Lima’s reply, Navarro-Domingo prematurely denied her motion to disqualify the witnesses, who are all serving sentences of reclusion perpetua.

On Sept. 24, the judge issued a ruling junking De Lima’s motion to disqualify Nonilo Arile, Jojo Baligad, Herbert Colanggo, Engelberto Durano, Rodolfo Magleo, Vicente Sy, Hans Tan, Froilan Trestiza, Peter Co, Noel Martinez, Joel Capones, German Agojo and Jaime Patcho as prosecution’s witnesses in case 17-167, which accuses the senator and six others of conspiring to commit illegal drug trading at the New Bilibid Prison during her time as justice secretary.

The order has paved the way for the prosecution to present Durano as its third witness in the next trial.

“After the prosecution filed its opposition to my motion to disqualify 13 convicts as state witnesses – which included Durano – in the bogus drug case I am facing, my camp should be allowed to file our reply to the said opposition, in accordance with the procedure laid down by Judge Domingo herself in her order,” De Lima said.

The senator added that she’s “disappointed to find out that Judge Navarro-Domingo hastily junked my said motion for allegedly being ‘devoid of merit’ without considering the period she herself has given for my legal team to file a reply.”

Durano, a former police officer convicted for murder and frustrated murder and is now serving a sentence at the NBP, was scheduled to testify last Sept. 25 but the hearing was canceled because the judge was sick.

De Lima maintained that Durano and the 12 other convicts do not qualify as state witnesses because they are, under the law, disqualified to be admitted to the government’s Witness
Protection Program (WPP) for their conviction of crimes involving moral turpitude.

“If we follow the law, you are not allowed to be a state witness and be admitted into the WPP if you are convicted of crimes involving vileness or depravity with respect to a person's duty to another or to society in general. These cases include murder, drug trading, homicide, among others,” the senator said.

De Lima said the convicts are not credible witnesses, explaining that “since they are already convicted of another crime, whatever they say in relation to the drug charge will not have a great effect on them. In short, they have nothing to lose but have something to gain.”

In her decision, Navarro-Domingo cited Section 20 under Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which states that “all persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make their known perception to others, may be witnesses.”