Timeline: The ordeal of Leila de Lima
MANILA, Philippines — Following is a timeline of the key events in the prosecution of former Sen. Leila de Lima
Aug. 17 – Then President Rodrigo Duterte links a senator to the illegal drug trade, calling her an “immoral woman.” He claims the lawmaker’s driver was also her “lover” and collected drug payoffs for her.
Duterte later identifies the senator as Leila de Lima, his staunchest critic who had earlier pursued an investigation into the killings attributed to the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group that reportedly operated in Duterte’s home city, where he served as mayor.
Aug. 22 – De Lima, as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, starts an inquiry into the killings and questionable police operations under Duterte’s “war” on drugs.
Aug. 25 – Duterte produces a so-called matrix to support his allegation linking De Lima to the drug trade.
Sept. 19 – After 54 days and three public hearings of the De Lima-led probe, the Senate ousts her from the chairmanship of the committee on justice and human rights. Sen. Richard Gordon becomes the new chair.
Sept. 21 – Several gang leaders at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) testify at a House of Representatives hearing that De Lima and her driver-bodyguard allegedly engaged in drug trafficking.
Sept. 26 – Duterte, in a Palace speech, says De Lima “will be jailed, that is for sure, because of testimonial evidence.”
December–The Senate drug war inquiry reaches a conclusion that the extrajudicial killings cannot be pinned on Duterte and state security agencies.
Feb. 17 – The Department of Justice files criminal charges against De Lima over allegations she presided over the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary.
Feb. 20 – Cases for three counts of illegal drug trading are raffled off to different branches of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC). Branch 204 is handling Criminal Case No. (CCN) 17-165, where De Lima and her former aide, Ronnie Dayan, are accused of conspiracy to commit drug trading. Branch 205 is handling CCN 17-166, with De Lima’s nephew Jose Adrian Dera as her co-accused. Branch 256 is hearing CCN 17-167, where she is accused of conspiring to trade drugs at NBP to raise money for her senatorial campaign in 2016.
Feb. 24 – De Lima is arrested and detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center inside Camp Crame, Quezon City.
March 30–Judge Juanita Guerrero of the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 rejects the government’s move to consolidate the three cases, citing the distinct nature of each case.
Oct. 10 – The Supreme Court rejects her petition to quash her indictment for drug trafficking. It also ruled that the RTC, not the Sandiganbayan, is the proper court to hear drug cases brought against public officials.
Feb. 17 – De Lima is acquitted in CCN 17-166 after the court granted her demurrer on grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors was insufficient for a criminal conviction.
Oct. 8 – De Lima seeks reelection and files her certificate of candidacy for the May 2022 senatorial race. Detained throughout the campaign period, she would get 7.2 million votes and rank 23rd in the final tally.
April 28 – Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa, a key witness against De Lima, recants and apologizes, saying he was only coerced and intimidated by the police into making allegations against her in exchange for the withdrawal of drug charges against him.
April 30 – In an affidavit presented to the media, Rafael Ragos, the former chief of the Bureau of Corrections who accused De Lima of receiving bribes from convicted drug lords, also makes a retraction and says former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II “coerced” him to “admit something that did not happen.”
May 13 – Dayan submits to the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 a new affidavit recanting his statements and accusing the late former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, then chair of the House committee on justice, of forcing him to testify against De Lima during the congressional inquiries.
Oct. 9 – De Lima is taken hostage inside the PNP Custodial Center after three other detainees—all suspected members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf—tried to escape. One of them used an improvised knife (fashioned from a fork) to stab an officer bringing breakfast to the inmates. The three detainees were later shot dead and De Lima emerged unhurt—though deeply shaken—from the ordeal.
Nov. 4 – Ragos affirms his recantation in court.
April 19 – The Inquirer reports that state prosecutors have asked RTC Branch 204 to reopen CCN 17-165 so they could present a last-minute witness and other “rebuttal evidence” against De Lima.
May 12 – Judge Joseph Abraham Alcantara of the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 acquits De Lima in CCN 17-165 due to the recantation of the prosecution’s key witnesses.
June – De Lima’s last drug case, CCN 17-167, was raffled off to Alcantara after Judge Romeo Buenaventura of Branch 256 inhibited from the case.
July 6 – Alcantara inhibits from the case and it was raffled off to Judge Gener Gito.