Up to Muntinlupa court to resolve De Lima cases, says DOJ
MANILA, Philippines — Only the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court has the sole power and authority to resolve the pending drug cases against former Sen. Leila de Lima, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Tuesday, reacting to a Senate resolution seeking her release from a police custodial center.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed the resolution after several key witnesses recanted their testimonies against De Lima.
“Based on records, [former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director and Bureau of Corrections officer in charge] Rafael Ragos has not been presented by the defense as a witness before the Muntinlupa Court,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) said.
“Hence, the department will rely on the sound discretion of the court on the appreciation of this alleged evidence,” it added.
Ragos earlier retracted his allegations against De Lima, disclosing that then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II “interrogated and coerced” him to “admit something that did not happen.”
Confessed drug trader Kerwin Espinosa also retracted his testimony linking the former senator to the illegal narcotics trade inside New Bilibid Prison while De Lima’s former aide and co-accused Ronnie Dayan said he never received any drug money meant for her.
Remulla’s predecessor, former Justice Secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, earlier said that he had directed state prosecutors to review the evidence in the two remaining cases pending against De Lima in separate Muntinlupa City courts.
“The prosecution needs to reassess the strength of its overall evidence in light of the retractions of certain witnesses,” Guevarra said.
“If the prosecution believes that such recantations do not affect its case, then the prosecution will maintain its course. 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.
Remulla earlier said that he was open to reviewing the cases against De Lima as he noted that the recantations were a “cause of concern.”
Hontiveros, meanwhile, said that as the new minority bloc in the Senate, she and Pimentel would not shirk their duty as fiscalizers in the chamber now dominated by a “supermajority” of 20 senators supportive of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“We may only be a few in the minority, but when it comes to issues that we have to defend on the floor, we will be persistent,” she told a press briefing.
“To borrow the motto of the Philippine Marines, ‘Always outnumbered, never outfought,’” she said.
Pimentel, who served as Senate president in the 16th Congress, said they respected the decision of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and his sister, Sen. Pia Cayetano, to form an independent bloc instead of joining their group, which he referred to as the “superminority.”
By heading the Senate opposition in the 19th Congress, Pimentel made history anew as he and his father, the late anti-Marcos figure Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., became the only father-son tandem to serve as Senate president and minority leader.
“When I made the decision [to join the minority], I did not consider that we will be in the minority if we have a certain number. So we’re ready,” Pimentel said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS