Leila De Lima thanks Amnesty Int’l, scores vs DOJ contempt rap
Amid loud and renewed calls for her release, Sen. Leila de Lima on Friday said the world “continues to watch and observe” the human rights situation in the Philippines, including her detention, as the “vindictive” Duterte administration comes to a close.
De Lima, one of President Duterte’s most vocal critics, expressed gratitude to human rights organizations including Amnesty International (AI), which had been making appeals on her behalf in the wake of the retraction of three key witnesses against her—confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, former Bureau of Corrections officer in charge Rafael Ragos, and her former aide Ronnie Dayan.
The senator thanked Amnesty International (AI) for its May 24 statement demanding her release after the witnesses recanted their testimonies, claiming they were threatened and coerced by state agents and key government officials to implicate her in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary.
“As it becomes clear that the charges against her were fabricated from the start, these charges must now be dropped, and De Lima must be released immediately and unconditionally,” AI said.
In a letter to AI, De Lima wrote: “Let me express my most profound gratitude for your continuing support and concern on my plight as a prisoner of conscience, and for your renewed call for my immediate and unconditional release.
“Indeed, the world continues to watch and observe the human rights situation here in the Philippines worsened by the current vindictive regime.”
‘The right thing’
Earlier, Cavite Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla, whom President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has tapped to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ), said he was open to a full review of De Lima’s cases in view of the “red flags” raised by the witnesses’ recantation.
De Lima said she hoped and prayed that Remulla “would do the right thing” by personally going over her cases and seeing for himself “the grave injustice done to me.”
“A genuine, honest-to-goodness review of my cases will reveal the truth of my innocence,” she said.
The senator’s camp believes that the retraction of the witnesses had greatly weakened the charges against her, and that it should be sufficient for the dismissal of her remaining two cases or, at the very least, the grant of her right to post bail.
As it happens, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 has thrown out the DOJ’s request that De Lima and her lawyer Boni Tacardon be cited in contempt.
In an order dated May 2, Presiding Judge Gener Gito said that Tacardon was merely echoing testimonies made in court and that there was no malice in his statements.
Government prosecutors filed a contempt suit against De Lima and Tacardon in December 2020, claiming that they violated the sub judice rule mandating lawyers to avoid discussing the merits of a case with the media. They accused De Lima and Tacardon of purveying “intentional and malicious information,” citing the latter’s reports to the media on the testimonies of witnesses during the trial.
The witnesses from the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency testified on the stand that they had no proof or personal knowledge that De Lima was involved in the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary.
According to Judge Gito, there was “no perceptible factual controversy in the case.”
“Respondents have not denied the statements they made to the media. They, in fact, admitted them not only hypothetically but as fact,” he said.
‘Not limitless’ power
Judge Gito also said the power to punish for contempt “is not limitless.”
“It must be used sparingly with caution, restraint, judiciousness, deliberation and due regard to the provisions of the law and the constitutional rights of the individual,” he said.
Responding to the court’s dismissal of the contempt suit, De Lima said it was a “baseless and frivolous petition” intended to silence her and her lawyers and prevent them from communicating the proceedings of her cases.
“My lawyer, Attorney Tacardon was just reiterating, upon my imprimatur, what some prosecution witnesses stated during their cross examination. One of them was Vicente Sy, who categorically said that he does not know me and never delivered any money to me,” she said in a statement on Thursday.
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