Despite the retraction by several key witnesses, the Justice Department said Tuesday it would proceed with the prosecution of drug cases filed against former senator Leila de Lima.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said a review of De Lima’s drug cases showed that the prosecution still has a strong chance of securing a conviction based on existing evidence.
“The panel of prosecutors in the De Lima cases has advised the Justice secretary that, after a thorough review of the evidence already presented as well as evidence still to be presented, there is good reason to continue the active prosecution of the senator,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
“As far as the ‘retractions’ of certain persons are concerned, the prosecution takes the position that until these persons are actually presented in court for examination to ascertain their truthfulness, their alleged recantations have no probative value whatsoever,” he added.
Witnesses who have recanted their statements implicating De Lima in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was still Justice secretary include former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, a key witness in one of her cases; self-confessed drug-lord Kerwin Espinosa; Marcelo Adorco; and De Lima’s co-accused and former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.
Ragos had executed an affidavit on Sept. 5, 2016 claiming that in November 2012, as BuCor OIC and together with aide Jovencio Ablen, they delivered a black bag containing P5 million to Dayan and De Lima at the latter’s residence.
He said at the time they made another delivery of money contained in a plastic bag in December 2012 to De Lima and Dayan.
In 2016, testified before the House Committee on Justice hearing on the NBP drug trade where he reiterated his previous affidavits.
But last month, Ragos, who served as deputy director for intelligence of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), said he was forced to execute false affidavits against and issue false testimonies before the House of Representatives and the court against De Lima and Dayan by several people led by former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
Aguirre has denied coercing Ragos into testifying against De Lima and questioned the timing of his recantation since it was made few days before the May 9 national elections where the latter ran but lost in the senatorial race.
He also claimed that Ragos has an axe to grind because his request to be appointed to some government post was ignored.
Earlier, Espinosa retracted all his statements implicating De Lima in the illegal drug trade inside the NBP but the DOJ said it would have
no bearing on the case since he was not used as a prosecution witness.
Guevarra said his successor, Cavite 7th District Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, was briefed on the status of De Lima’s drug cases during
their meeting last week.
“I think he will also be guided by the assessment of the panel of prosecutors who are actually handling the trial of the cases,”
Remulla earlier said the retraction of some witnesses against De Lima is “a red flag” even as he expressed readiness to conduct a review of
the said cases once he assumes his post on June 30.
De Lima’s team issued a statement saying the review by the DOJ panel of prosecutors was “worthless” if they were the same ones that Ragos said were perfectly aware that his testimony was fabricated and all lies.
“The review should be undertaken by prosecutors who are not tainted by Ragos’s accusation of participating in the manufacture of evidence,” De Lima’s lawyers said.