Gov’t presents PAO lawyer in reopened De Lima case | Inquirer News

Gov’t presents PAO lawyer in reopened De Lima case

/ 05:27 AM April 29, 2023

Gov’t presents PAO lawyer in reopened De Lima case

A Muntinlupa court on Friday reopened one of two drug cases against former Sen. Leila de Lima so that government prosecutors could present testimony from a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) who helped prepare an affidavit against her.

In an order dated April 24, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara said the reopening of the case was done in the “interest of justice and to give parties the fullest opportunity to present its evidence.”


De Lima’s legal team had opposed the move, saying it was an “underhanded maneuvering of the [prosecution] panel to inevitably delay the proceedings in this case.”


“The prosecution had six long years to prove its case,” it said.

But the court maintained that the Rules of Court did not prohibit reopening a case to receive rebuttal evidence after it had been submitted for decision, saying it would not cause “any manifest injustice.”


“The Court does not shrink from its responsibility to receive evidence in order to ferret out the truth,” it added.

The court, however, said it will still hand down its decision as planned on May 12.

Ragos affidavits

Lawyer Demiteer Huerta was one of the PAO lawyers who assisted former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer in charge Rafael Ragos in executing affidavits implicating De Lima in the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison.

But Ragos later recanted his testimony against De Lima. In his recantation affidavit, he said he was invited by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to sign the testimony document on Sept. 5, 2016, at Solaire Resort and Casino in Parañaque City.

Three weeks later, Ragos was sent to PAO to sign another affidavit prepared by Huerta and another PAO lawyer, Rigel Salvador.

De Lima’s lead lawyer Filibon Tacardon, declined to comment on the presentation of Huerta.

Decision out soon

“Because this will be decided upon soon, the defense team decided not to give a statement on the testimony of Atty. Huerta and to just leave this upon the discretion of the court to evaluate,” said Tacardon.

“Let us join Atty. De Lima in praying that this case will be decided fairly. She is also hoping that the court will decide based on evidence and merits of the case,” he said.

De Lima has been in detention for more than six years as she faces charges of receiving bribes from drug lords inside New Bilibid Prison during her stint as justice secretary.

Ragos said in his 2016 affidavit that he delivered P10 million to De Lima’s house in Parañaque in 2012 for her senatorial campaign.

He recanted his testimony on Nov. 4, 2022, saying he was directed by Aguirre and other justice officials to implicate De Lima.

Ragos’ lawyer, Michael de Castro, told the court that his client obeyed their orders because he feared for his and his family’s safety.

The former BuCor chief is one of the three key witnesses who have retracted their testimonies.

De Lima’s co-accused and former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, who alleged that he received Ragos’ money on her behalf, said in May last year that he was only forced to lie by the late Oriental Mindoro congressman Rey Umali.

Confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, who had claimed that he also gave De Lima drug money, withdrew his statement on April 28, 2022, and said that he was coerced by the police.

Call to Marcos

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday that President Marcos should end all “politically motivated prosecutions” of critics of the government, specifically De Lima and Nobel laureate and journalist Maria Ressa, before meeting US President Joe Biden during his official visit to the United States next week.

Biden, on the other hand, should “publicly call on” Mr. Marcos to have the cases against De Lima and Rappler CEO Ressa dismissed.

“The White House should only have agreed to a Biden-Marcos meeting on condition that De Lima would be first released from detention,” John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, said in a statement.

Sifton also recalled the thousands of victims under the Duterte administration’s drug war that sparked condemnation locally and internationally.

He added that there were cases of extrajudicial killings of activists, journalists and indigenous peoples, as well as harassment of critics through the practice of “Red-tagging,” or labeling a person or a group of being linked to the communist insurgency.

Sifton pointed out that since Mr. Marcos was elected last year, the United States has “significantly increased assistance” to the Philippines, primarily through defense spending.

He recalled that the US government had “conditioned” military assistance for the Philippines “on the government making progress on holding human rights abusers accountable.”

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He urged Biden and members of the US Congress to clarify to the Philippine leader that “an improved bilateral relationship can only be maintained if substantive progress is made in protecting human rights.” —WITH A REPORT FROM DEMPSEY REYES

READ: Ragos: I was forced thrice to sign affidavits vs De Lima

TAGS: De Lima, Leila de Lima, PAO

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