Robredo, Diokno call for De Lima release after retraction

Presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo, joined by senatorial candidate and human rights lawyer Jose Manuel 'Chel' Diokno called for the immediate release of Senator Leila de Lima from detention after the recantation of two testimonies against her.

Vice President Leni Robredo and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno (Photo from VPLR Media Bureau)

In a statement, Robredo lamented De Lima’s detention for five years on trumped-up drug charges.

“Wala nang dahilan para manatili sa piitan si Sen Leila. Dapat na siyang palayain sa lalong madaling panahon (There is no reason for Sen. Leila to stay in jail. She should be freed immediately),” she said on Monday, May 2.

“Kaisa ko ang bawat Pilipinong naniniwala sa hustisya sa panawagan (I am with every Filipino who believes in calling justice): Free Leila now,” the Vice President added.

Alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos recanted their testimonies against the senator.

Last week, Espinosa recanted a sworn statement wherein he linked De Lima to the illegal drug trade. He said he was merely coerced into giving the testimony, and apologized to the senator.

READ: Kerwin Espinosa recants testimonies vs detained Sen. De Lima on drugs charges

But unlike Espinosa’s sworn statement, the recantation of Ragos’ testimony is a bigger development for De Lima’s case because the former BuCor chief stood as a witness for the prosecution and his testimony was a big part of the reason the Muntinlupa judge proceeded with the trial.

“I now hereby declare and make known to the whole world that there is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigative proceedings, including the Senate and the Department of Justice (DOJ), on the delivery of monies to Secretary De Lima or Ronnie Dayan in whatever amount,” Ragos said in a sworn affidavit dated April 30.

He added that he was forced to invent the story “upon the instructions of Secretary Aguirre,” referring to former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, the current National Police Commission (Napolcom) commissioner.

“Mahigit limang taon nang nakakulong si Senator Leila de Lima, pero kahit isang gramo ng ilegal na droga, kahit isang pahina ng documentary evidence, walang naihain laban sa kanya (Senator Leila de Lima has been in prison for more than five years, but there was no evidence even one gram of illegal drugs or one page of documentary evidence),” Robredo said.

She added that the withdrawal of the testimonies against the reelectionist senator proved what she has been saying all along: that there should have been no case against De Lima.

READ: 'Let court assess Ragos's recanted testimony vs. De Lima' — Andanar

“Ang tanging kasalanan niya ay ang magsabi ng totoo at ipagtanggol ang karapatan ng mga kapwa natin Pilipino (Her only sin is to tell the truth and fight for the rights of our fellow Filipinos),” the Vice President stressed.

Diokno, for his part, said that those behind De Lima’s persecution should be held liable.

“If Department of Justice (DOJ) officials can intimidate witnesses like Ragos and get away with it, what kind of justice can we expect? Kung nagawa nila ito sa nakaupong senador, paano pa kaya sa ordinaryong mamamayan (If they can do this to a sitting senator, how much more to an ordinary citizen)?,” he asked.

He called on Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevara to put on temporary leave the people mentioned by Ragos so they can be investigated properly.

“Dapat papanagutin ang nasa likod ng panggigipit kay Senadora Leila sa ginawa nilang pagbaluktot sa katotohanan at paggamit sa batas bilang instrumento ng paghihiganti at pang-aapi (Those behind the prosecution of Senator Leila should be held accountable because they twisted the truth and used the law as instrument to take revenge and for oppression),” Diokno said.

If Robredo and running mate Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan wins on May 9, the human rights lawyer said they will revamp the Justice department by first appointing a new DOJ chief.

“Ngunit sa ngayon, mas mahalaga na agad makalabas si Senadora Leila upang muli niyang makapiling ang pamilyang matagal na nawalay sa kanya (But, for now, it is more important for Senator Leila to be released so she can be with her family who has been away from her for so long),” he added.