Court dismisses 1 of 3 De Lima drug cases
Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima on Wednesday won one of the three drug cases filed against her by the Duterte administration in connection with alleged involvement in a conspiracy to promote drug trade at New Bilibid Prisons (NBP).
She said acquittal even in one case under Duterte was already a victory.
Denied bail, however, she will continue her four-year detention pending the resolution of the two other cases.
In a 41-page omnibus order, Judge Liezel Aquiatan of Branch 205 of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence in Criminal Case No. (CCN) 17-166, which her lawyers described as the weakest of the three drug cases against her.
A demurrer is a motion to dismiss a case on grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction. Once granted, it is considered an acquittal by the court.
The court denied a separate demurrer filed by coaccused Jose Adrian Dera, a police informant, but allowed him to post a P500,000 bail because the “evidence of guilt [against him] is not that strong.”
Aquiatan, who is also trying De Lima in CCN 17-165, denied the demurrer and bail petitions separately filed by the senator and one of her coaccused, former aide Ronnie Dayan. Her 35-page order was also announced on Wednesday.
In a statement read by her lead counsel Boni Tacardon during a press briefing on Wednesday night, De Lima said: “To be acquitted even in just one case, in the time of Duterte, is a victory.”
Despite the denial of their demurrer and bail petitions in CCN 17-165, De Lima said she and her lawyers believed that the evidence presented by the state prosecutors against her were “weak and their accusations baseless.”
The prosecutors accused De Lima of receiving at least P5 million in December 2012 from the proceeds of the alleged drug trading at NBP, where high profile inmates also separately gave a weekly “tara” or protection money of P100,000.
“This is a big victory indeed,” said Dino de Leon, one of De Lima’s lawyers. “For [CCN 17-165,] we will just be presenting evidence to refute the allegations and evidence presented by the prosecution.”
“We are confident that in the end, the defense team will prove the innocence of Senator De Lima,” Tacardon said.
With the denial of the second demurrer, the lawyers for De Lima and Dayan are set to present their evidence and witnesses in the next hearing for CCN 17-165 on March 5.
Dera will be the sole respondent when the trial of CCN 17-166 resumes also on March 5. In this case, the prosecution alleged that in March 2016, Dera demanded millions of pesos and vehicles for De Lima’s senatorial run from convicted drug lord Peter Co.
Co said he paid a “ransom” of P5 million through Dera for the release of his niece and her husband, who were arrested by the police on March 25, 2016. Prosecutors said the money went to De Lima.
Rolly Peoro, another lawyer for the senator, said they would file a motion for reconsideration to allow her to post bail, noting that she was never a flight risk.
Año as defense witness
When the defense starts to present its case in CCN 17-165, Peoro said they would call as their first witness Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who was the military intelligence chief at the time the drug offenses were allegedly committed by the senator.
De Lima will mark her fourth year in what she called “unjust detention” on Feb. 24. The former justice secretary, a staunch critic of President Duterte, has said that he instigated the “trumped-up charges” against her in retaliation for her investigation of alleged human rights violations in his bloody war on drugs.
In her statement De Lima said in Filipino: “This is not just my personal fight but the people’s fight.” She said the cases against her were used to “silence me and interrupt my work as a senator.”
Despite her detention, De Lima said she continued her work in the Senate, authoring bills and pushing her advocacies, especially on human rights and the protection of democracy, and the rule of law.
“To jail one innocent person—whoever they may be—is an insult to every Filipino who deserves a better government, and an assault on the future of our country,” she said.
The trial of the third case against her, CCN 17-167, is ongoing at Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256, where the prosecution had not finished presenting all its witnesses.
In this case, De Lima was accused of conspiring to trade drugs at Bilibid to raise money for her senatorial campaign in 2016 with Jesus Bucayu, the former chief of Bureau of Corrections, Bucayu’s staff Wilfredo Elli, the late NBP inmate Jaybee Sebastian, Dayan, her aide Joenel Sanchez and Dera.
During a hearing of that case on Tuesday, prosecutors presented Joel Capones—a convicted murderer serving time at NBP and leader of the Sigue Sigue Sputnik gang. His testimony was cut short due to the absence of an accompanying document.
In De Lima’s two demurrers in Aquiatan’s court, her lawyers said the prosecution failed to prove she was involved in drug trading, and had presented no evidence of her conspiring with her coaccused and drug lords.
They noted that none of the prosecution’s more than 20 witnesses proved there was illegal drug trading, as no specific illegal drug was shown or proven.
‘Based on hearsay’
“No shabu, marijuana or any controlled precursor and essential chemical was presented in court and proven to be such by the prosecution,” her lawyers argued in their motion.
Her lawyers also said the existence and alleged deliveries of the supposed drug money and vehicles were based merely on hearsay and uncorroborated by any direct proof.
“To put it simply, no one testified that he personally saw, in relation to the case, anyone (a) receiving anything; and (b) giving anything to another. Surprisingly, the most important details of the case theory of the prosecution are left out for this court to guess,” they said.
Witnesses, including officers from the Philippine National Police, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency testified that she “never engaged in any illegal drug activity and that she led the successful December 2014 raid to eradicate illegal activities inside NBP,” they said.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David on Wednesday asked the faithful to fast and pray for De Lima and other people who had been unjustly detained on false charges.
David, who is also vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, recalled that the senator was detained on drug charges in 2017.
“That’s four years ago now, and the charges against her remain unproven; but she continues to suffer in detention. If this kind of injustice can be done to a duly-elected legislator of the country, I wonder what it’s like for ordinary people who have also been unjustly detained for non-bailable charges and continue to suffer, away from their loved ones who need them,” David said.
“If we cannot hear their cries, how do we expect God to hear our own cries? We can at least offer our Lenten fast for them, perchance the Lord will put an end to our own quarantine?” he said in his Ash Wednesday homily. WITH A REPORT FROM JODEE AGONCILLO
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