De Lima slams DOJ for admitting 13 drug convicts as state witnesses
Sen. Leila de Lima has filed a complaint against Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and his predecessor, Vitaliano Aguirre II, for “illegally admitting as state witnesses” 13 convicts who implicated her in the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
The complaint came two weeks after De Lima asked a judge to inhibit herself from handling an illegal drug case against the senator, saying one of the judge’s rulings paved the way for convicts to testify against her.
Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo stepped down from handling a drug case at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC). The senator’s camp claimed victory on Tuesday for the inhibition.
Justice Secretary Guevarra denied the allegation hurled at him and described the inmates as “ordinary witnesses, not state witnesses under Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.”
“As far as I know, no convicted person has been used as a state witness against Senator De Lima,” Guevarra told the Inquirer in a text message.
De Lima’s Oct. 29 complaint accused Guevarra and Aguirre of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well as negligence in the prosecution of criminal offenses under Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code.
It also asked that the two be held liable for the administrative offenses of gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.
What prompted De Lima to file the complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman was an Aug. 30 letter in which Guevarra allegedly denied her lawyers’ request to confirm the inclusion of the inmates in the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
“Secretary Guevarra has been deceitful about the confidentiality of the information and that the abovementioned convicted criminals were indeed included in the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program,” De Lima said in her complaint.
De Lima specifically questioned the Department of Justice’s reliance on the statements of the convicts of heinous crimes. They were 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.
She argued that Section 10 of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act explicitly barred persons “convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude” from being admitted as state witnesses.
Moral turpitude is defined by the Supreme Court as an “act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which man owes to his fellow man, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”
Crimes such as robbery, murder, homicide, extortion and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are commonly accepted as “involving moral turpitude.”
De Lima accused Guevarra and Aguirre of “dereliction of [their] duties” for failing to indict the NBP as her coaccused despite their “express admissions and extrajudicial confessions that they committed illegal drug trading.”
“There is malice and deliberate intent to favor the convicts as they have not only been freed from prosecution, but also provided immunity and protection under the Witness Protection Program,” she said.
De Lima cited numerous statements made by Aguirre categorically linking her to the illegal drug trade in the penitentiary even before the preliminary investigation stage of the charges against her.
As for Domingo, De Lima filed a motion for inhibition on Oct. 15 alleging that the judge had exhibited “manifest bias, partiality and hostility.”
Responding to the motion, Domingo issued an order in which she rebutted the seven alleged grounds for her inhibition, but declared at the end that she would recuse herself just the same.
Although the prosecution still has five days to file a motion for reconsideration, De Lima’s lawyer, Boni Tacardon, quickly seized on the ruling as a rare win for the senator.
“This is a harbinger that there is still hope for the justice system in the Philippines,” Tacardon told reporters.
Domingo is the fourth Muntinlupa RTC judge to inhibit herself from one of De Lima’s drug cases.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.