De Lima team counting on bail granted ‘in 2 months’
Lawyers of detained former Sen. Leila de Lima expressed hope that their client could be released on bail “in two months.”
De Lima’s legal team made that bold forecast on Friday as she attended another hearing at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch No. 204, which is handling the two remaining drug cases filed against her during the Duterte administration.
Boni Tacardon, one of her lawyers, said that given the current pace of the court proceedings, “We’re looking at a possible timeline that by March [the cases will be resolved].”
But even as they continue to pursue De Lima’s petition for bail, her lawyers also said they are still open to filing a petition for the writ of habeas corpus, which Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes sought to secure her release also on bail on Jan. 19.
The writ of habeas corpus is a legal recourse through which a detainee can be released on the grounds of unlawful detention. Reyes, the former chief of staff of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, sought the relief in 2021. The Supreme Court’s First Division granted her petition on Jan. 17.
She had been detained since 2014 on the otherwise nonbailable charge of plunder in connection with the 2013 pork barrel scam wherein the mastermind, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, allegedly paid Reyes P172.8 million. Napoles was convicted of plunder in 2018.
‘Available legal remedy’
Tacardon noted the length of time it took before Reyes’ petition was granted by the high court.
“That is why we are focusing on [De Lima’s] bail application because we see it as an available legal remedy that may come out in, who knows, two months,” he said.
De Lima, one of the staunch critics of then President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, was arrested in 2017 on charges linking her to drug trafficking operations run from the national penitentiary.
Her supporters, including lawmakers, human rights advocates and other groups in the international community, had denounced her arrest and detention as political harassment. De Lima once described herself as “the most prominent political prisoner under the Duterte regime.”
A year before the end of Duterte’s term, Branch No. 205 of the Muntinlupa RTC dismissed one of the three cases against De Lima for lack of evidence.
The next year saw three key prosecution witnesses—confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, former Bureau of Corrections officer in charge Rafael Ragos and former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan—issuing statements in the media recanting their testimonies against her.
But in September 2022, state prosecutors stopped Ragos from affirming his recantation on the witness stand.
Tacardon on Friday said RTC Branch No. 204 allowed the presentation of videos about the talks between Ragos and lawyers from the Public Attorneys’ Office in 2016.
At the time, Ramos claimed that de Lima received bribe money from the drug trade. In his recantation, however, he said he made the allegations on the orders of then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aquirre II.
“The prosecution still has a few questions for [Ragos] in connection with those videos. After that we will be questioning him,” Tacardon said.
“We respect the prosecution’s right to ask all of their questions against Ragos. We will have our turn to ask anyway,” added the lawyer.
Meanwhile, De Lima’s supporters gathered outside the courthouse, wearing face masks with markings expressing their clamor: “Free De Lima Now.”
One of them, Dino Pineda, said “The prosecution doesn’t have anything solid anymore after all the recantations.’’
“We’re real people and we’re not afraid to show our faces. We’ll be doing this again and again until she is released,” he added.
Also on Friday, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), an organization of present and former lawmakers in Southeast Asia, added its voice to the call for De Lima’s release.
In a news conference, the group denounced the use of “lawfare”— or weaponizing the law against government critics —in the former senator’s case.
“We call on Southeast Asian authorities to stop abusing the legal system to stifle dissent and urge the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to reprimand member states that continue to use lawfare to attack political opposition,” said APHR chairp and Indonesian lawmaker Mercy Chriesty Barends.
APHR Cochair and former Malaysian Member of Parliament Charles Santiago said “weaponizing the legal system is alarming and incredibly damaging to freedom of expression.”
“It creates an atmosphere of fear that not only silences those who are targeted by such lawfare but also makes anyone who may want to criticize those in power think twice,” Santiago added.
—REPORT FROM ANGEL YABUT
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