Ex-President Duterte on De Lima’s acquittal: Verdict ‘should be accepted’
(Editor’s note: This story is updated 6 p.m., May 14, 2023, to reflect the exact attribution of remarks contained in a public statement after clarification.)
MANILA, Philippines — Former President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday that the court’s decision on the drug case of his nemesis Leila de Lima “should be accepted.”
In a statement released through Atty. Salvador Panelo, the ex-chief executive maintained he has “nothing to do with the case” and “never interfered with the judicial process.”
“The judgment of the court should be accepted. Frankly, I’m not interested in the outcome of the case as I have nothing to do with it. I have never interfered with the judicial process. I always say let the law take its course,” Duterte said.
Panelo, who was Duterte’s chief legal counsel and spokesperson at one point, also shared his take on the court’s decision, saying “the acquittal is flawed” and that “the evidence extant supports a judgment of conviction.”
“As a lawyer, it is my position that final judgment of a competent court must be accepted no matter how one disagrees with it,” he noted.
“In this particular De Lima case, the acquittal is flawed. The evidence extant supports a judgement of conviction,” he also said.
According to Panelo, the court was mistaken when it took former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge (OIC) Rafael Ragos’ recantation of his testimony as justification to doubt the guilt of de Lima.
Ragos recanted his testimony against de Lima in November 2022, telling the court that he was coerced into signing prepared affidavits on three occasions in 2016 and 2017 to say that de Lima has been receiving bribe money from drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
“The ruling of the court that the recantation of witness [Ragos] created a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused is grossly erroneous as the claim for recanting [Ragos] testimony that he was intimidated was never proven,” Panelo said.
“The recantation in fact was rebutted in court by his own lawyer who assisted him. The court ignorantly did not consider the lack of proof of intimidation [as] claimed by the recanting witness. Neither did it even touch on the rebuttal evidence against the recantation,” he added.
“In the court’s own words, recantation is exceedingly unreliable because it can be made thru intimidation or in exchange for money.”
“Since the previous testimony of [Ragos] was never proved to be coerced or against his will, recantation can never produce any weight to overturn the validity and efficacy the recanted testimony. Necessarily, his testimony can not be discarded,” Panelo also said.
“Given that his original testimony stands, that he delivered drug money, the source of which was established, to the accused, plus the fact that the court itself acknowledged the existence of the drug syndicate composed of detained drug lords who were in fact operating the traffic of illegal drugs inside the [New Bilibid Prison], the quantum of proof for conviction was present,” he further pointed out.
On Friday, May 12, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 acquitted de Lima of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
The court did not convict de Lima and her former aide Ronnie Dayan of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading in the NBP while she was Justice Secretary.
De Lima has now won two of three drug cases filed against her during the administration of former president Duterte.
She has been in detention at Camp Crame, Quezon City, since February 2017 and had repeatedly denied the drug charges which she branded as fabricated.
De Lima scored her first victory in 2021 as one of the three drug cases filed against her was dismissed by the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 205, which granted her demurrer to evidence that has the effect of a case dismissal. A demurrer is filed on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction.
The third and remaining drug case against de Lima is pending before Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256.