A key witness in the drug case against Senator Leila de Lima on Monday retracted his testimony and accused former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of coercing him to testify against her.
Rafael Ragos, former deputy director for intelligence at the National Bureau of Investigation ( NBI), signed a sworn statement Saturday disavowing his earlier claim that he personally delivered P5 million to Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s bodyguard at the time, at her residence in Parañaque City in November and December 2012.
De Lima was Justice secretary at that time and the drug money was supposedly for the 2013 elections—even though she did not run in that year.
“I now hereby declare and make known to the whole world that there is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigatory proceedings, including the Senate and the DOJ, on the delivery of monies to Secretary Leila De Lima or Ronnie Dayan in whatever amount,” he said.
In his testimony, Ragos said the money came from a convicted drug lord, Peter Co, and another Bilibid inmate, Hans Tan, had told him it was De Lima’s cut in the proceeds from the drug trade.
In his sworn statement Saturday, Ragos said none of this happened.
“Hans Tan never called to order me to deliver any money to Ronnie Dayan and Secretary De Lima that came from Peter Co as their share in the illegal drug trade. Even if he did that, I will never follow the orders of a mere Bilibid inmate, knowing it to be illegal,” he said.
“There was never any money delivered to my quarters. Even if there was, I would have immediately conducted an investigation and filed a case against the responsible individuals, instead of following the instructions of an unknown caller or Hans Tan to deliver a package like an ordinary messenger,” he said.
He added that De Lima was “incapable of doing anything illegal.”
“As far as I know and based on my professional relationship with Secretary de Lima, she is incapable of doing anything illegal, much less engage in the illegal drug trade or accept money from Bilibid inmates,” his statement read.
Ragos said it was Aguirre who forced him to testify against De Lima during a meeting at a hotel-casino in Parañaque in September 2016, a week before the House inquiry on the alleged illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
“During said meeting, then Secretary Aguirre interrogated and coerced me to admit something that did not happen. He escorted me to another room…and they showed me a statement,” Ragos said.
Aguirre then told him to execute an affidavit to corroborate the testimony of his aide at the time, Jovencio Ablen Jr.
He said Public Attorney’s Office lawyer Rigel Salvador then drafted the affidavit implicating De Lima.
Ragos said he was coerced into giving false testimony at the House of Representatives under the threat of being detained for the same crime, which he said he did not commit.
Ragos was initially included among the accused in one of Delima’s three cases.
“In order to be dropped from the Information in Criminal Case No. 17-165 as a co-accused of Secretary De Lima and Ronnie Dayan, I was forced to cooperate with Secretary Aguirre and the DOJ public prosecutors by agreeing to deliver all these false testimonies and sign false affidavits against Secretary De Lima and Ronnie Dayan. I was thus made a witness against Secretary De Lima and Ronnie Dayan and set free,” he said.
In his statement, Ragos said his former aide Ablen was involved in the illegal drug trade.
Ablen had earlier accused Ragos of running illegal activities as OIC of the Bureau of Corrections.
Ragos also implicated a prosecutor handling De Lima’s cases.
“As the trial went by, Prosecutor Laurence Joel Taliping advised me: ‘Magtestigo ka nang mabuti, minomonitor ka’ (Testify well, you’re being monitored by the Palace),” he said.
Ragos also named former Justice undersecretary Raymund Mecate as among those who harassed him by pressuring him to “further implicate and manufacture lies against Senator De Lima” and deputy directors Rachel Angeles and Vicente de Guzman for making his life “difficult” when he was detained.
“Fearing for my life and my family, I had no choice but to follow everything that these people asked me to do. I also did not want to go to jail for fear of being the subject of acts of revenge by criminals I put in jail as an NBI official and by inmates that I disciplined as BuCor OIC,” he said.
Ragos’ retraction puts the findings of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 in doubt.
Dino de Leon, De Lima’s spokesman, said Ragos’s admission—as well as that of drug lord Kerwin Espinosa—that the allegations against De Lima were untrue, showed that his client was the target of a well-orchestrated political persecution in which “ the entire machinery of the state was used in order to make sure that she rots in jail.”
De Leon said “the truth is starting to come out” and challenged the Department of Justice to “do the right thing.
The Palace said it will respect the independence of the court in handling the De Lima case after two key personalities retracted their statements against her.
Acting presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said, however, that the withdrawal of allegations against detained De Lima has no bearing on the charges filed against her.
The Palace continues to “trust” the authorities — particularly the Department of Justice and the National Prosecution Service — to perform their duty in the investigation, Andanar said.
Ragos is the second witness to withdraw allegations against De Lima. Last week, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa retracted his accusations against the jailed senator, saying he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened” to make these statements.
Vice President and presidential aspirant Leni Robredo called for the release of De Lima.
In a statement on Monday, Robredo said in the five-year detention of De Lima, not a single gram of illegal drugs or other documentary evidence have been brought against the senator.
“This only proves the truth that I have long been saying: There is no case against Senator Leila de Lima. Her only offense is to tell the truth and defend the rights of every Filipino,” Robredo said in Filipino.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he would take up Ragos’s recanting of his testimony.