Transfer of convicts hit as Duterte ‘reward’ for testifying vs De Lima
MANILA, Philippines — The transfer of the convicts who testified against Sen. Leila de Lima to the Philippine Marines headquarters was not so much a security measure as a reward for their alleged false statements against President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critic, senators said on Saturday.
De Lima herself said it was also intended to ensure that the administration could control them and see to it that they would stick to their story linking her to the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Sen. Panfilo Lacson saw the transfer “not only unusual but inappropriate.”
But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted that the transfer was intended “to secure their safety, akin to witness protection program.”
“Some quarters may wish to obfuscate or misconstrue the President’s action. But let us be clear: The high-profile convicts remain in a detention facility under the control of the Bureau of Corrections without any VIP treatment. In other words, no special or unusual considerations are granted to them,” he said.
Panelo also said De Lima “accumulated sympathizers or henchmen” when she headed the Department of Justice who could “derail the truth” about the illegal drug trade at NBP.
De Lima scoffed at Panelo’s statement.
“So, in Duterte’s twisted mind, I’m that powerful! So powerful that I can actually command my alleged NBP ‘allies’ to harm or assassinate their fellow inmates! This is insanity in its most diabolical form!” the former justice secretary said in a statement from her detention cell at Camp Crame.
Latest presidential inanity
De Lima has been detained for more than two years on drug trafficking charges that she said were fabricated in retaliation for her criticism and investigation of Mr. Duterte’s bloody drug war.
“It should be clear to everyone that this latest presidential inanity is but another move aimed at perpetuating their biggest lie or grossest myth—that I am involved in illegal drugs, that I am the number one drug lord or leading narcopolitician in the country!” she said.
She said the convicts were transferred so that the President and his allies could further control or “further threaten, coerce and pressure them” into pinning her down in the drug charges.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan believes the transfer of the convicts was a “reward” to ensure that they would continue lying against De Lima.
“The charges against De Lima were only made up, so naturally, the reason for transferring the convicted witnesses were also fabricated,” he said on Twitter.
The transfer was improper because witnesses were supposed to provide testimonies without expecting a reward, according to Lacson, a former national police chief.
“In every police investigation, when we secure the sworn affidavit or statement of a witness against any person, it always includes a manifestation in the last portion that categorically states his/her own volition, without any promise of reward or threat from anyone,” he said in a text message.
Hard to believe
In a radio interview, Lacson described the transfer as a “privilege” and warned that it could even weaken the case against De Lima since the convicts were getting something in exchange for speaking against her.
“The mere fact they were transferred from a maximum security facility where life is miserable, and then moved to a place where there are a lot of privileges and life is easier, appears to be just that. So instead of strengthening the case against the accused, in this case Leila de Lima, it might weaken it,” he said.
Lacson also could not believe that De Lima, who once had authority over NBP, still had influence over prison affairs and the convicts considering that she was herself in detention.
“If she is still secretary of justice, I could say that she has influence inside, but she has been detained for almost three years. What influence, who will obey her unless she pays them?” he said.
“For me, it is not logical to think that she still has influence there, that she will be listened to, unless she has a personal friend there with whom she has solid ties,” Lacson added.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he did not know whether the movement of the convicts was covered by a court order, but transferring them still needed the permission of the judiciary nevertheless.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who earlier said there must be a court order for the transfer of the convicts, on Saturday said the move was legally covered by a memorandum of agreement between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. —With a report from Jerome Aning
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