De Lima thanks DOJ for review of drug cases

Detained Senator Leila de Lima said she is thankful that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be reviewing the drug cases she is facing in Muntinlupa courts but said it should also look into how witnesses were allegedly “coerced.”

De Lima has been detained at Camp Crame for more than five years since the DOJ then under Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II filed three cases of illegal drug trading against her in February 2017 in Muntinlupa courts. The cases were later changed to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

Detained Senator Leila de Lima (center) is escorted by the police as she attends a hearing in one of her cases at the NBP Court in Muntinlupa in March 2019. (Jonathan Hicap)

One of the three cases was dismissed by the Muntinlupa court in February 2021.

Since April, personalities who have recanted their allegations against De Lima were former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, a key witness in one of her cases; Kerwin Espinosa; Marcelo Adorco; and co-accused Ronnie Dayan.

Ragos executed an affidavit to state that he did not deliver P10 million, which supposedly came from illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa, to De Lima at her residence in Paranaque in November and December 2012. His testimony is an important element in one of De Lima’s pending cases.

Over the weekend, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was quoted by media as saying that he has ordered government prosecutors to review evidence against De Lima in the two pending cases.

“I am thankful that, as reported by media, the DOJ is now reviewing my cases,” said De Lima in dispatch from Camp Crame.

She added, “It is the DOJ’s sacred mandate to ensure that no injustice is done to anyone. Just as the DOJ must ensure the prosecution and conviction of those guilty of real crimes, it must also ensure that an innocent is spared from a baseless or farcical prosecution.”

“DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra should not be doing a Pontius Pilate by just pointing to his predecessor as the initiator of the cases against me,” the outgoing senator added.

She said Guevarra “is morally and legally bound to look into the recent recantations of so-called “star witnesses” in the House and Senate hearings namely, Rafael Ragos, Ronnie Dayan, and Kerwin Espinosa, and how they were coerced and threatened by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and other personalities into fabricating stories and testifying against me.”

Aguirre previously denied coercing Ragos to testify against De Lima.

“These are very serious allegations which indicate a premeditated conspiracy of government officials and political allies of Duterte to manufacture testimony and evidence against me. The Secretary of Justice (SOJ) as the premiere advocate of justice and the DOJ as the premiere justice institution must always care about uncovering the truth in light of these retractions and claims of government coercion,” said De Lima.

She added, “In assessing or re-assessing the rest of the evidence against me, the SOJ/DOJ must go beyond a superficial review of the cold statements or affidavits of the witnesses and inquire into the very circumstances by which these were extracted. More than the now recanting witnesses, the Bilibid witnesses are most vulnerable to various insidious machinations – threats, coercion, bribery, concessions, promise of immunity even when unqualified as state witnesses, etc. Dig deeper please, I so implore.”

“Neither the law nor the rules restrain the SOJ and the DOJ from acting under these premises and correct a grievous wrong, even when the cases are already with the courts. Again, their foremost task is to seek out the truth, uphold the same, and do justice,” De Lima added.

Guevarra criticized De Lima for publicizing the recantations through the media but the senator said the these were already submitted to Muntinlupa courts.

“Finally, to set the facts right. The recantations are already part of the records of the courts hearing my two remaining cases. Ragos’ affidavit of recantation is now with the RTC of Muntinlupa as an attachment to our Omnibus Motion for Outright Dismissal or Bail,” she said.

She added, “On the other hand, Dayan’s judicial affidavit recanting his testimony before the House Justice Committee hearing on the Bilibid drug trade has also been submitted to the same court and is in fact already the subject of cross-examination.”

“Espinosa’s own counter-affidavit containing his recantation has been submitted to the DOJ in the course of the preliminary investigation of one of his remaining cases,” she said.

The senator added, “In short, it’s not true that I am pursuing my defense based on these recantations only through the media. Despite this travesty of justice, I remain respectful of the courts and the rule of law by participating in the judicial proceedings. But, as always, I make it a point to apprise the public through media of the case developments, in the interest of truth and transparency.”