DOJ wants to present new witness vs De Lima | Inquirer News

DOJ wants to present new witness vs De Lima

/ 05:55 AM April 19, 2023

Under heavy guard, former Sen. Leila de Lima, in this Jan. 27 2023, photo, arrives at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court to attend a hearing set for one of her two remaining cases. STORY: DOJ wants to present new witness vs De Lima

PURSUING JUSTICE | Under heavy guard, former Sen. Leila de Lima, in this Jan. 27, 2023, photo, arrives at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court to attend a hearing set for one of her two remaining cases. (File photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — In a “sudden turnaround,” state prosecutors have asked a Muntinlupa City court to reopen one of former Sen. Leila de Lima’s two remaining illegal drug cases to give them the chance to present a last-minute witness and other “rebuttal evidence” against her.

The move of the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors to request the reopening of Criminal Case No. 17-165 took De Lima’s defense counsel Filibon Tacardon by surprise, as he said both parties had already agreed to have the case submitted for decision.


During the courtroom hearing on Monday, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 announced that the decision on the case would be promulgated on May 12, according to De Lima’s lawyer.


“We don’t know what happened with the prosecution. They made the sudden turnaround and are now claiming that they want to submit rebuttal evidence. They should have done this yesterday,” Tacardon told the Inquirer on Tuesday.

PAO lawyer as witness

Based on the omnibus motion for reconsideration filed after Monday’s hearing, the DOJ prosecutors said they intended to submit exhibits during the presentation of evidence of De Lima’s co-accused Ronnie Dayan, along with the testimony of lawyer Demiteer Huerta from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

Huerta is the officer in charge (OIC) of PAO’s administrative service, according to PAO’s website. Dayan is a former aide of De Lima and both are facing the charge of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading inside New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City when De Lima was justice secretary.

Rafael Ragos, former OIC of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), had testified during trial that he delivered P5 million worth of drug money to De Lima to bankroll her 2016 senatorial campaign. But he recanted his testimony last year, saying he had been coerced into doing so.

In its motion, the prosecution said the rebuttal evidence would explain, repel, counteract or disprove the evidence of the other party.


“While the presentation of rebuttal evidence is discretionary with the prosecution in a criminal action, in the instant case, the overwhelming import of the new facts disclosed by the accused which have a damaging effect on the complainant’s version is imperative and necessary for the prosecution to present rebuttal evidence,” the motion read in part.

But De Lima’s camp said it had been under the impression that the trial was over.

Tacardon said the prosecution’s motion was contrary to what the two parties had agreed to on Monday in front of Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara.

“The court even acted on our agreement by setting the case for another hearing for purposes of promulgation of the decision on May 12,” he said.

‘Shook hands, hugged’

“In fact, after our trial, when we shook hands, they approached Senator De Lima, they even hugged … and we were all happy after we agreed to have the case submitted for decision already,” Tacardon said.

The lawyer said he was not yet sure of the nature of Huerta’s testimony but he warned that the implication of the “sudden unexplained change of mind” by the prosecutors might result in another prolonged hearing.

The defense team is studying the DOJ’s motion and plans to oppose it, Tacardon said.

“We will still try to have this case be submitted for decision and the promulgation of judgment by May 12 as originally agreed upon by the parties,” he said.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center since 2017 over drug charges filed in three different branches of the Muntinlupa RTC.

In February 2017, the DOJ filed charges against De Lima in the Muntinlupa RTC, accusing her of violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, particularly Section 5 (sale) in relation to Section 3 (trading), and Sections 26(b) and 28, pertaining to her criminal liability as a government official.

In February 2021, De Lima was acquitted in Criminal Case No. 17-166, but the court ordered the trial of her coaccused and nephew, Jose Adrian Dera, to proceed while granting him bail.

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The third case against De Lima is Criminal Case No. 17-167, in which she is accused of conspiring to trade drugs at NBP with Dera and former BuCor chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu.

Her other coaccused were alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, her former aide Joenel Sanchez and high-profile NBP inmate Jaybee Sebastian, who, according to prison officials, died of COVID-19 in July 2020 under still mysterious circumstances.



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Muntinlupa City court wraps up case vs Leila de Lima; decision set on May 12

Ragos retraction in court buoys hope of De Lima bail

TAGS: De Lima’s drug cases, Demiteer Huerta, Department of Justice, Leila de Lima, Public Attorney’s Office

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