Espinosa retraction sends flicker of light in De Lima’s ordeal | Inquirer News
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Espinosa retraction sends flicker of light in De Lima’s ordeal

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 07:42 PM April 29, 2022

FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—“The truth is coming out.”

This was Sen. Leila de Lima’s swift reaction to reports that one of the witnesses to what she said were fabricated drug cases against her—confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa—had retracted his testimony.

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READ: Key witness vs De Lima recants, bares coercion

One of De Lima’s lawyers, Rolly Francis Peoro, said the senator was in awe when told that Espinosa, who testified against her in 2016, had filed a counter-affidavit at the Department of Justice (DOJ) admitting he lied in his testimony against De Lima.

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Last Thursday (April 28), Espinosa said that his allegations against De Lima were false and “was the result of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats to his life and family members from the police”.

Saying he was just directed by police to implicate De Lima in the drug trade, Espinosa admitted he “had no dealings with Sen. De Lima and has not given her any money at any given time.”

This was “moral victory,” Peoro told INQUIRER.net as Espinosa’s admission “reaffirms her innocence and reinforces our stand that all the allegations were mere fabrications.”

Peoro said that soon, all the cases that were “invented” by the government through its “machine of lies” to silence the fiercest critic of the killings that marked the anti-drug campaign—De Lima—will soon unravel.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

“As we always say, the arc of the moral universe is long but it must always bend toward justice. We hope that the recantation [of Espinosa] will help in Sen. Leila de Lima’s fight for freedom,” he said.

De Lima, who investigated persistent reports about the existence of a Davao Death Squad in 2009 and the killings in the anti-drug campaign in 2016, has been in detention in Camp Crame for the last five years.

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‘Critical element’

Malacañang said on Friday (April 29) that Espinosa’s retraction “will not have any effect” on the cases against De Lima because, as Acting Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar said, he was not a state witness.

READ: Espinosa retraction won’t affect cases vs De Lima, says Palace

However, while Espinosa was not a state witness, Peoro said that he was one of the “key witnesses” in the congressional hearings in 2016, which paraded several convicts who testified against De Lima. Espinosa, Peoro said, was “instrumental in the demolition job” against the senator.

“As expected, Malacañang will surely downplay such recantation. In the first place, this is the case of Sen. Leila de Lima. Espinosa was used and coerced to fabricate lies against her,” he said.

Peoro stressed that Espinosa was initially listed as one of the witnesses of the prosecution: “So clearly, the prosecution had the intention to use Espinosa in the unjust persecution of Sen. Leila de Lima.”

“Though he was already excluded, Espinosa’s recantation clearly proves the lengths that Duterte and his men in the DOJ have gone to fabricate testimony and evidence against Sen. Leila de Lima,” he said.

Back in 2016, the DOJ said it was considering Espinosa as a possible witness against De Lima: “If he passes the assessment of the Witness Protection Program, then we are going to offer immunity to Kerwin [Espinosa].”

READ: DOJ eyes Kerwin Espinosa as possible witness against De Lima

The Espinosas were one of the first personalities to be publicly accused by Duterte of involvement in the drug trade. The elder Espinosa, Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Sr., was killed in a shootout inside his cell in 2016.

Espinosa in 2016

When asked if Espinosa’s recantation will have an effect on the cases filed against De Lima, Peoro said “yes” because “he is a critical element in their pattern, in their fabricated evidence against her”.

It was in 2016 when Espinosa told the Senate that he gave P8 million to De Lima. He said it was to finance her Senate bid in 2016.

But he said that he never handed the money directly to De Lima because he gave it to her driver, Ronnie Dayan, who “promised him protection”.

Espinosa said then that he first had links with De Lima in August 2015, when Dayan told him to help De Lima raise funds for her Senate bid in 2016.

This, as the President was likewise relentless in his assault on De Lima, calling her an “immoral woman” for having a relationship with Dayan, her driver, who “collected” money for her from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

De Lima said then that she was “willing to resign, willing to be shot” if the President’s allegations against her were proven true. She even said that some convicts were asked to implicate her.

As to Espinosa’s allegations, De Lima said then that the statement was “a very nice script”: “I say this to you: I categorically, firmly, and absolutely deny having known Mr. Kerwin Espinosa. I do not remember any instance or occasion of having met him.”

READ: De Lima says Espinosa testimony a very nice script

Retracting lies

Peoro said that Espinosa, who had confessed involvement in drugs, was not the first witness who retracted testimony against De Lima. In 2020, Peoro said convict Vicente Sy also retracted his testimony against the senator.

READ: Convicted drug lord Vicente Sy says ‘he never gave money’ to De Lima–legal counsel

Lawyer Boni Tacardon, one of De Lima’s legal counsels, said then that Sy, one of the high-profile convicts in the NBP, confirmed that he never met or give P500,000 to the senator.

“Vicente Sy said last time that he gave P500,000 for the campaign of De Lima in 2012, however, in the hearing earlier (Nov. 7, 2020), Sy said he never financed De Lima and that he did not know her,” Tacardon said.

This was the reason that Peoro said that Espinosa “reaffirms” the statements of other witnesses, like Sy, who died last year: “They have no knowledge of whatever participation that Sen. Leila de Lima had in any illegal transaction.”

“We’re hoping that more of these convicts will come out and confess that they were intimidated, coerced and bribed into making up this ridiculous impossible story that Sen. Leila de Lima received money from the illegal drug trade,” he said.

What’s next?

Peoro said that a lot of cases were filed by the government against De Lima, but the most critical are the three illegal drug cases—Criminal Cases No. 17-165, 17-166 and 17-167.

Criminal Case No. 17-166 was already dismissed by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 last year, but Criminal Case No. 17-165 was kept.

READ: One drug case vs de Lima junked but RTC ruled to keep another one

De Lima filed a Demurrer to Evidence in two of the cases—conspiracies to commit illegal drug trade.

In its separate decisions, the Muntinlupa City RTC granted De Lima’s Demurrer to Evidence in the case where her co-accused was Jose Adrian Dera.

“Apparently, the prosecution failed to elicit strong evidence to sustain a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt on the part of accused De Lima,” the court said.

But in the case where her co-accused is Dayan, her Demurrer to Evidence was denied. Her bid to post bail for her provisional liberty was likewise denied.

“The third case—Criminal Case No. 17-167, has slow progress because it involves a lot of accused. In this case, we are still in the petition for bail. We are still in bail hearings,” Peoro said.

“The prosecution intended in the pre-trial, they listed more than 50 witnesses and they only presented, so far, six witnesses. So there’s a long way to go,” he said.

As to Espinosa’s revelation of threats and intimidation from the police, Peoro said they are still looking at possible legal actions: “So far, in the affidavit, there are no names, no details on who forced him or coerced him. It was only a generic statement that it was the police.”

“We also hope that names would be revealed, the names of those who participated in this cross frame-up so we can finally bring these people to account for what they have done against Sen. Leila de Lima. We have to take them into justice for all the great injustice that they have done against her,”  he said.

Broken war

Peoro said that the recantation of Espinosa likewise has an implication on the government’s war on drugs, which already killed 6,191 individuals, according to police records.

READ: Drug war death toll now at 6,191; arrests pass 300,000 – PDEA

“As we see it, it again exposes the ugly tale of the war on drugs. It becomes clear that it is also a tool to persecute critics of this administration,” he said.

“As we have said, the war on drugs is a very difficult effort but you cannot cut corners. The easiest way to do something is to do it right the first time and for us to do it the right way, we should not use the war on drugs to persecute innocent people,” Peoro said.

For Fr. Flavie Villanueva, a critic of the government’s drug war, the retraction indicates that the climate of fear that the President has sown is fading: “He is becoming irrelevant”.

“The truth about Sen. Leila de Lima and the war on drugs of the government is a fallacy. The former depicts an injustice against a person. The latter inflicts a greater injustice on the lives of those living in the margins,” he said.

Peoro stressed that as an advocate of justice, De Lima was really hoping that the injustice done to her will never be done again to any Filipino.

“We are so grateful that finally, the truth is coming out, [we are] hoping that justice will be served soon. We hope that this [recantations] will continue,” he said.

RELATED STORY: Prosecution witness absent anew in De Lima hearing

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TAGS: Department of Justice, Illegal drugs, INQFocus, Kerwin Espinosa, Leila de Lima, New Bilibid Prison, Rodrigo Duterte, Vicente Sy
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