Key witness vs De Lima recants, bares coercion
MANILA, Philippines — Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa, a key witness against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, on Thursday recanted the allegations he made against the senator and apologized for linking her to the drug trade, saying that he did it due to alleged pressure, coercion and intimidation against him and his family.
In a counteraffidavit, a copy of which was released to the media on Thursday, Espinosa said he made the allegations against De Lima in two Senate hearings in 2016 because he was “misled by the police” into signing his affidavit, supposedly in exchange for the dropping of drug charges against him.
“Any statement he made against the senator are false, and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to his life and family members from the police, who instructed him to implicate Senator De Lima into the illegal drug trade,” he said in his counteraffidavit. “For this, undersigned apologizes to Senator De Lima.”
Espinosa refers to himself in the third person in the counteraffidavit.
In a statement, De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon, said Espinosa’s recantation only proved that the allegations against the senator were fabrications allegedly concocted by the Duterte administration.
“We have always believed that no matter the lies perpetrated by coerced witnesses, in the end, the truth will still come out,” he said.De Lima, who is running for reelection, has been detained at Camp Crame since February 2017.
The opposition, civil society and human rights groups, and even several United States senators have been demanding her release, saying that she is a victim of political vendetta for being a vocal critic of President Duterte’s brutal antidrug campaign.
In a statement on Thursday, Amnesty International said the senator’s “arbitrary detention” for five years had caused her and her family “unimaginable suffering and trauma.”
“Following this retraction, the government must immediately and unconditionally release her and hold accountable those responsible for her unjust detention and the various human rights violations she has had to endure,” it said.
One of the three charges against her at Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court has been dismissed, partly due to recantations by other prosecution witnesses.
Espinosa made the counteraffidavit to deny the drug charges against him in the Department of Justice.
He disowned his December 2016 “confession” in which he implicated De Lima in the drug trade.
No money given
Espinosa said that he did not voluntarily execute this confession and a lawyer he did not choose did not fully explain its contents to him.
That “confession” was culled from the transcript of the Nov. 23, 2016 and Dec. 5, 2016, hearings called by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs where Espinosa accused De Lima of involvement in the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was serving as justice secretary.
He also claimed that De Lima received up to P8 million from him as his contribution to her 2016 election campaign.
“Any and all of the undersigned’s statements during the Senate hearings, or in the form of sworn written affidavits against Senator De Lima are not true. He has no dealings with Senator De Lima and has not given her any money at any given time,” Espinosa said in his counteraffidavit.
He made those allegations when he testified during the Senate investigation of the death of his father, Rolando Sr., mayor of Albuera, Leyte, who was killed in an alleged shootout with the police while detained inside the Leyte provincial jail on drug charges.
His cases dropped if . . .
According to Espinosa, the police made a verbal promise that his cases would be dropped if he testified on concocted stories against De Lima. The promise “turned out to be false,” he said.
Espinosa said he had “no other option but to invent stories” against the senator because of threats against him and his family after his father was killed on Nov. 5, 2016, just 18 days before the Senate hearings.
He is facing multiple drug cases in the regional trial courts in Manila, Makati City, Pasay City, Ormoc City and Cebu City.
De Lima’s lawyer Tacardon was hoping that other witnesses would also come out to disclose how they were forced or bribed into making false testimonies against the senator.
“If possible, [they should also] name those who actively participated in coercing them to come up with such ridiculous narratives against the good senator,” he said.
Other resource persons during the 2016 House and Senate inquiries on illegal drugs who became prosecution witnesses against De Lima had also recanted their statements in the drug cases against the senator.
Early this month, De Lima’s former aide and coaccused, Ronnie Dayan, reiterated denials of any involvement in illegal drugs in response to presidential aspirant Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s statement during a televised debate that Dayan received and then delivered drug money to De Lima when she was the justice secretary.
Convicts Hans Anton Tan, Jerry Valeroso and Peter Co also implicated De Lima during the congressional hearings but changed their statements when they testified in court.
The inconsistencies in their statements were cited by the court in granting the demurrer to evidence filed by De Lima and dismissing one case against her in February 2021.
Tan said he had no personal knowledge and participation in the illegal drug trade at NBP, and denied that De Lima had any role in it.
Valeroso admitted that his statements during the Senate hearings were not based on his personal knowledge, but was only relayed to him by his confidential informant, Nonito Arile, who was also a convict serving time at NBP.
In 2016, Co told lawmakers that Jad Dera, who claimed to be a nephew of De Lima, demanded money and vehicles for her senatorial campaign in exchange for the release of his niece and her husband.
Co later told the court that he never personally communicated with De Lima, since all his transactions were with Dera, who was a police asset unrelated to the senator.
During cross-examination in February 2021, another convict turned prosecution witness, Noel Martinez, also told the court he had no involvement and personal knowledge about the drug transactions mentioned in the charge against De Lima.
He said he made no drug deals with any of the accused in the drug cases, including De Lima.
High-profile drug convict Vicente Sy told the court that he never met nor gave money to De Lima, contradicting his earlier claim that he had contributed to her senatorial campaign. Sy died of a heart attack in prison in July last year. —WITH REPORTS FROM DEXTER CABALZA AND ARIANNE SUAREZ, INQUIRER RESEARCH
Kerwin Espinosa recants drug trade accusations vs Sen. Leila de Lima
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