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DOJ to reassess evidence vs Sen. Leila de Lima

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 05:30 AM June 05, 2022
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Sen. Leila de Lima. STORY: DOJ to reassess evidence vs Leila

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Sen. Leila de Lima (File photos from Malacañang and Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Will the scales of justice finally tilt in favor of detained Sen. Leila de Lima?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot make a categorical reply at this time, but it will be taking a second look at the remaining evidence against the senator, President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critic, on the heels of the recantations of key witnesses who had linked her to the illegal drug trade, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Saturday.

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Guevarra, who will be replaced by Cavite Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla in the next administration, told the Inquirer that he had directed state prosecutors to review the evidence in the two remaining cases against De Lima in separate courts in Muntinlupa City.

The examination of the records, he said, would only “take a few days” before the prosecution decides on what to do.

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“The prosecution needs to reassess the strength of its overall evidence in the light of the retractions of certain witnesses,” Guevarra said in a Viber message to the Inquirer.

“If the prosecution believes that such recantations do not affect its case, then the prosecution will maintain its course,” he said.

Detained since 2017

“If it believes that its case has been somehow affected, then it should do whatever is appropriate, such as attack the credibility and truthfulness of flip-flopping witnesses or present rebuttal evidence,” he added.

The justice secretary said the review would be conducted by a team of state prosecutors.

“A court trial is a very dynamic process,” he said. “Both the prosecution and defense continually assess their respective position as events in court unfold. The same thing is true with the cases of Senator De Lima.”

De Lima, who lost reelection in the May 9 polls, has been detained inside a police cell at Camp Crame since February 2017.

Ragos, Espinosa U-turns

The drug charges against her came after Mr. Duterte openly attacked her for leading a Senate inquiry into his administration’s brutal war on drugs.

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She earned his ire much earlier when she investigated alleged assassinations of suspected drug offenders by the so-called Davao Death Squad when he was still mayor of Davao City and she was head of the Commission on Human Rights.

Guevarra said the DOJ was also preparing a formal reply to the letter that De Lima had sent to his office last month after former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos withdrew his testimony implicating her in the drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

In late April, a few days before Ragos’ decision to backpedal on his allegations, confessed drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa took back his claim that he had given protection money to De Lima when she was the justice secretary during the Aquino administration.

Espinosa said he was “misled by the police” into signing an affidavit against De Lima purportedly to save him from facing drug charges.

He apologized to the senator for linking her to the drug trade, saying that he did it due to alleged pressure, coercion and intimidation against him and his family.

On May 24, Marcelo Adorco, who was presented by the DOJ as Espinosa’s bodyguard, became the latest witness to withdraw his claims against De Lima, submitting an affidavit recanting his 2016 and 2017 allegations that the senator was behind the drug trade at NBP.

Dayan denials

Earlier in April, Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former aide and coaccused, 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.

Convicted murderer Joel Capones had likewise retracted his previous testimony against De Lima.

Convicts Hans Anton Tan, Jerry Valeroso and Peter Co also implicated De Lima during the congressional hearings on the alleged drug trade at NBP 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 in dismissing one of the three cases against her in February 2021.

Never met her

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.

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.

In an interview with CNN Philippines last week, Remulla said he was “of course” willing to review the cases against De Lima once he assumes office.

Remulla said the latest statements from Espinosa, Ragos, and Dayan were a cause of concern and “a red flag that there is something wrong.” Guevarra pointed out that criminal cases were being filed in court as a complaint of the “people of the Philippines.”

“The people,” the justice secretary maintained, “are also entitled to due process.”

—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH

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Witness vs Espinosa, De Lima retracts: I was forced to sign affidavit linking them

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TAGS: De Lima drug cases, Department of Justice, Drug war, Leila de Lima, Rodrigo Duterte
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