De Lima prosecution to continue despite recantations – Guevarra
MANILA, Philippines —Despite government witnesses’ successive retractions of their testimony against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, state prosecutors are intent on pursuing her remaining two drug cases being tried at the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court.
“The panel of prosecutors… has advised [me] that after a thorough review of the evidence already presented, as well as evidence still to be presented, there is good reason to continue the active prosecution of the senator,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a Viber message on Tuesday.
“As far as the ‘retractions’ of certain persons are concerned,” Guevarra said, “the prosecution takes the position that until these persons are actually presented in court for examination to ascertain their truthfulness, their alleged recantations have no probative value whatsoever.”
Besides, he added, “the final say on the disposition of the cases rests on the judge alone and no other.”
Sought for comment, De Lima’s legal team said the ordered review of her drug cases would be “worthless” if it was conducted by the same Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors whom Rafael Ragos had described as “perfectly aware” that his testimony against the senator was fabricated.
“The review should be undertaken by prosecutors who are not tainted by Ragos’ accusation of participation in the manufacture of evidence,” the legal team said.
Dino de Leon, one of De Lima’s lawyers, said it was “saddening” that the DOJ “squandered” the chance yet again to do the right thing. He said the DOJ should have done an “independent” inquiry if it were “really serious.”
Guevarra instructed DOJ prosecutors to review the evidence against De Lima in the wake of the recantation of Ragos, a former acting chief of the Bureau of Corrections, and of other witnesses who had linked the senator to the trade in illegal drugs at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was justice secretary.
The senator, a critic of President Duterte, was arrested in February 2017 and has since been in police custody. She denies the charges.
She is scheduled for “major” surgery next week, according to her lawyer Filibon Tacardon.
Up to Remulla
Guevarra said he discussed De Lima’s cases with his successor, Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, during a meeting last week. He said it was Remulla who would decide whether the DOJ would pursue the cases under the next administration.
“But I think he will also be guided by the assessment of the panel of prosecutors …. handling the trial of the cases,” Guevarra told the Inquirer.
Remulla earlier expressed willingness to review De Lima’s cases, saying the retractions of the witnesses were “a red flag that there is something wrong.”
Guevarra himself had earlier raised a need for the DOJ to “reassess the strength of its overall evidence” against De Lima.
Before Ragos, confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa recanted, saying he had been “misled by the police” into signing an affidavit against De Lima, supposedly to save him from drug charges.
On May 24, Espinosa’s supposed bodyguard, Marcelo Adorco, submitted an affidavit withdrawing the claims he made in 2016 and 2017 that De Lima was behind the drug trade at NBP during the Aquino administration.
Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former aide and coaccused, as well as convicted murderer Joel Capones, also took back their testimonies against the senator.
De Lima has asked the court for a medical furlough even as she awaits the decision on her motion for bail.
Speaking with reporters after De Lima’s court appearance on Monday, Tacardon said the next hearing on June 27 might have to be reset because she was scheduled for “a major operation” on June 19-25 at the Manila Doctors Hospital.
The speed of her recovery will determine whether she can be cleared to attend the June 27 hearing, he said.
According to Tacardon, the surgery was previously postponed and now has to be done immediately.
“While Senator De Lima badly wants to finish the last two hearings [on her bail petition], she will need to push through with the medical procedure because it is already becoming a concern for her,” he said.
Tacardon dismissed the claims of convict Herbert Colanggo that De Lima’s camp had been trying to sabotage the prosecution’s case by inducing witnesses to recant their statements.
“We have not done anything of that sort. If we decide to do that, we could have resorted to it from the very start,” he said.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, De Lima herself said Colanggo’s allegations were “easily conceived lies” that were part of his “stellar performance to grab the limelight from his fellow convicts as the real star witness.”
“Herbert Colanggo is the one-of-a-kind witness who seemed to have gotten an improved image [with the government] after he confessed as a drug lord,” she said.
She reiterated that Colanggo was in prison for his conviction of robbery with homicide for the “massacre of helpless bank employees.”
Colanggo was sentenced to life imprisonment for leading the Ozamiz robbery gang in the 2008 looting of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch in Cabuyao, Laguna, that left 10 persons dead.
De Lima took the government to task for supposedly allowing a “charlatan convicted criminal” like Colanggo to speak with the media. “There is no limit to the fairy tales he will invent and the lies he will tell,” she said.
The senator said she had no ill feelings toward convicts coerced to testify against her, but that she was making a distinction with Colanggo.
“When this is done with relish and gusto, like how Herbert Colanggo seems to enjoy the spotlight, whether when speaking to the media or on the witness stand, then that is another matter altogether,” she said.
Colanggo previously testified that he was involved in the illegal drug trade in NBP and that he raised funds for De Lima’s senatorial campaign in 2016.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JANE BAUTISTA
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