CHR wants criminal raps for officials who coerced witnesses vs De Lima
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) says that government officials who allegedly threatened and forced witnesses to testify against former senator Leila de Lima cannot be let off the hook.
In a statement released Friday, CHR Executive Director Jacqueline de Guia said that the Commission is happy with the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision to drop the bribery complaint against De Lima for lack of probable cause.
The complainants claimed that the former senator allegedly asked for money from self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa when she was still Justice secretary.
But as good as the resolution was for De Lima, the current CHR caretaker said that possible criminal offenses must be considered as well against those who coerced the witnesses, especially as key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimonies against De Lima.
“[CHR] welcomes the Ombudsman resolution and commends the office for upholding an expedient inquisition. CHR echoes their assertion that the innocent must be secured from oppressive prosecution as well as anxieties of a public trial, especially when evidence is uncorroborated,” de Guia said.
“While the recantation of previous statements linking the former senator to the illegal drug trade was not taken into consideration, CHR remains hopeful that the alleged coercion and intimidation of witnesses by government officials will be looked into. However, this possible criminal offense must not be disregarded without appropriate action,” she added.
According to De Guia, the former senator, who once served as CHR chairperson, should have access to a speedy and fair trial, especially with the recent developments.
“Former Senator de Lima has been detained now for more than half a decade. Any further delay to a fair trial directly violates the rights of persons deprived of liberty,” De Guia said.
“It is the obligation of the State to ascertain truth and justice whilst presuming their innocence and guaranteeing their constitutional right to swift disposition of cases. We cannot, as duty bearers, impede the fulfillment of our moral and civic duty to the Filipino people to respect and protect their human rights,” she added.
Espinosa had testified against De Lima for years, but on April 28, he said he had lied under threat.
Another prosecution witness in former Bureau of Corrections head Rafael Ragos said former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II coerced him to deliver his testimonies.
READ: Kerwin Espinosa recants drug trade accusations vs Sen. Leila de Lima | Another witness retracts accusations vs De Lima, says he was ‘coerced‘
De Lima was secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) when she allegedly asked Espinosa for campaign funding. However, the Ombudsman’s judgment found that Espinosa’s and Marcelo Adorco’s statements differed significantly, so the case was dropped.
According to Espinosa’s testimony, De Lima’s former aide Ronnie Dayan got the money from him. But Adorco said it was the former senator who got the money directly.
The lies get worse: Espinosa said the P8 million bribe was distributed over four installments, whereas Adorco alleged it was all handed over at once at their lunch meeting.
The Ombudsman also sided with De Lima, who claimed that the supposed meeting in Baguio City with Espinosa was merely a chance encounter brought by her national campaign for the senatorial elections.
READ: Ombudsman junks bribery case vs De Lima, Dayan
De Lima also said that the resolution was written and sent to Ombudsman Samuel Martires in January 2022, months before the witnesses changed their stories.
READ: De Lima: Junking of bribery raps disproves Duterte admin’s ‘Kerwin fairytales’
CHR hopes that impartiality will continue to ensure a fair trial for De Lima.
“We urge the continued exercise of impartiality, prudence, and propriety in the deliverance of justice. Let the principles of truth and objectivity, at all times, be central in our legal responsibilities,” De Guia added.
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