Convicts might recant raps vs De Lima if…
Returning the so-called “Bilibid 19” convicts to the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) might prompt some of them to retract their testimonies against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, a lawyer of one of the inmates warned on Wednesday.
Francis Acejas III said the convicts had asked Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to reconsider his order directing the Bureau of Corrections to move them out of their temporary detention cells out of fear for their safety.
Some of the Bilibid 19 inmates are at the NBP medium security compound while others are detained at Camp Aguinaldo.
De Lima, President Rodrigo Duterte’s most vocal critic, had vehemently denied receiving protection money from drug lords to fund her bid for the Senate in the May 2016 elections, saying the accusations were meant to silence her.
“Their cooperation in [the President’s] drug war is very vital. It exposes them to danger… They would like to continue supporting this campaign that is why we believe their testimonies against [De Lima] are very material,” Acejas said in a press briefing.
“If they are brought back to the maximum security compound, we believe there are still certain shadowy or unknown personalities that might make an attempt on their lives,” he added.
Acejas, the lawyer of convict Froilan Trestiza who had testified against De Lima during a House hearing, pointed out that the inmates’ transfer to the medium security compound was part of the security measures following their admittance into the government’s Witness Protection Program.
Asked what would happen if Aguirre insisted on their transfer, he said the convicts would be “demoralized.”
As to whether the inmates would recant their statements linking De Lima to the narcotics trade in the NBP, Acejas replied: “If you [ask] if it’s a possibility, that could be a possibility and that would be rather disastrous.”
“That’s only a possibility but I’m not saying that it’s going to happen. What I like to emphasize is that they would like to help the government in this campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.
In a follow-up phone interview with reporters, however, Acejas was more definite. “No. There is no such thing as recantation because right now we do not want to jeopardize (the case against De Lima),” he said.
“Our appeal is for (Aguirre) to reconsider his order. In the meantime, while the case against (De Lima) is ongoing, the inmates should be secured for their own safety and protection,” he added.
Ferdinand Topacio, the counsel for six of the “Bilibid 19” convicts, said his clients who are at Camp Aguinaldo did not tell him of any plan to retract their testimonies.
“While they do not want to be transferred back to the maximum security compound, there is no such plan to recant on their part and they are saying that someone is feeding the wrong information to Secretary Aguirre to foment division among the witnesses,” Topacio said.