Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa has retracted all his allegations implicating detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima in illegal drugs cases.
In a counter-affidavit subscribed before the Department of Justice on Thursday, Espinosa recanted his sworn statements during the Senate joint committee hearings on the killing of his father, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., claiming he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened” by the police to implicate De Lima.
“Any and all of his statements given during the Senate hearings, or in the form of sworn written affidavits, against Senator Leila de Lima are not true. He has no dealings with Sen. de Lima and has not given her any money at any given time,” Espinosa said.
“Any statement (Espinosa) made against the Senator is false and was the result of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the illegal drug trade,” the statement added.
As a result, the senator’s camp said they are considering filing counter-charges against those who coerced Espinosa into implicating her in the illegal drugs trade, De Lima’s legal counsel and spokesperson Rolly Peoro said in an ANC interview.
The senator, who is seeking reelection in the May 9 polls, will not let her accusers get off the hook, Peoro said, adding he was not surprised by Espinosa’s recantation of his allegations against her.
“I cannot tell yet what the next action of Sen. De Lima is. But as an advocate of justice, surely… she will not let this off the hook or taken for granted,” the lawyer said.
As the staunchest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, De Lima marked her fifth year in detention last February 24 at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party and vice-presidential candidate in the general elections, called for the immediate release of De Lima after Espinosa recanted.
“Ngayong binawi na ni Kerwin Espinosa ang lahat ng mga paratang laban kay Senator Leila De Lima, dapat palayain na si Senator Leila — now na! [Now that Espinosa has retracted all his accusations against Senator De Lima, Senator Leila should be freed – now!]” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“Patunay na gawa-gawa ang mga ito… Napakalaking sampal sa katarungan ang mahigit limang taong pagkakapiit ni Senator Leila [This proves that the charges are fabricated… Senator Leila’s five-year detention is such a big slap in the face of justice],” the running mate of Vice President Leni Robredo added.
Espinosa in 2016 testified before the Senate that De Lima was part of the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice Secretary under the administration of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
He also accused de Lima of receiving from him a total of P8 million in drug payoffs for her senatorial campaign through her former driver and security aide, Ronnie Dayan.
Espinosa in his counter-affidavit claimed he had “no other option but to invent stories” for fear for his life and that of his family’s, noting that his father was killed on November 5, 2016 – or 18 days before the legislative inquiry.
He said he was told to “cooperate” or else he and his family members will “suffer the same fate” as his father’s.
Earlier this year, the government removed Espinosa from its Witness Protection, Security, and Benefit Program.
De Lima has been detained since 2017. Of the three cases filed against her, one has already been dismissed by the Muntinlupa court.
Several groups, including the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, have called for her release, stressing her detainment was “politically motivated.”
Filibon “Boni” Tacardo, De Lima’s legal counsel, welcomed Espinosa’s move, saying it only proves the “length the current administration has gone to fabricate testimonies and evidence” against the legislator.
“We hope that other witnesses will also come out and confess how they were intimidated, coerced, and bribed into making false testimonies against the good Senator and if possible, name those who actively participated in coercing them to come up with such ridiculous narratives against the good senator,” Tacardo said.