The Department of Justice has dropped former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos as an accused in the criminal complaint filed before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court against Senator Leila de Lima for allegedly conspiring to commit illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.
This paved the way for State prosecutors led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong to file an amended charge sheet before the Muntinlupa City RTC, Branch 204, confining the case against De Lima and her ex-lover and Ronnie Dayan.
In the amended complaint, De Lima and Dayan are now being charged for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, a violation of Section 26 (b) in relation to Section 5, Section 3 (jj) and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The DoJ prosecutors indicted De Lima for conspiracy and confederating with Dayan to commit illegal drug trading.
“The inmates of the [NBP], not being authorized by law and through the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices, willfully and unlawfully traded and trafficked dangerous drugs,” the charge sheet stated.
“Thereafter [the inmates] gave and delivered to De Lima and/through Dayan, the proceeds of illegal drug trading amounting to P5 million on 24 November 2012 and another P5 million on 15 December 2012,” it said.
The amended complaint came after the DOJ prosecutors granted Ragos’ supplemental motion for reconsideration, appealing that he cannot be indicted for violation of RA 9165 owing to his admission into the Witness Protection, Security Benefits Program and disclosure that he delivered P10 million in drug payoffs to De Lima, who was then Justice Secretary, and Dayan in separate occasions.
“With the foregoing disclosures and his admissions into the WPSBP the undersigned panel of prosecutors recommends that Ragos be excluded from the information in criminal case no. 17-165. The other grounds relied upon by respondent Ragos in assailing the joint resolution dated February 14, 2017 are, thus rendered moot and academic,” read the 11-page joint resolution signed by Ong.
It was Ragos who testified before an inquiry at the House of Representatives that P5 million of the money he had delivered went to Dayan in the senator’s residence in South Bay Village in November 2012. Ragos claimed he saw Dayan hand the bag over to De Lima.
“I had no choice but to say yes to Mr. Dayan because I know how close he is to Sec. De Lima. I am a frequent visitor to the house of Sec.. De Lima in Parañaque and her office on Padre Faura and even their house in Bicol so I was able to observe their behavior and intimacy towards each other,” Ragos said, in his affidavit.
Ragos, former chief of the BuCor, an agency under the DOJ, supervised the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) where drug kingpins operated their colossal narcotics trade, with alleged protection from De Lima, according to the drug charges.
Ragos claimed that De Lima “would normally respond with a nod” to the requests of inmates for celebration inside the NBP, which he would “casually mention” when he had the opportunity.
After the Muntinlupa trial court ordered his arrest for drug charges, Ragos surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on February 26. He was then taken to a secure detention cell inside the NBI Headquarters.
During last Thursday’s hearing, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo, a member of the DOJ’s team of prosecutors handling the drug cases, said that charges will be dropped against Ragos as he will be turned into a prosecution witness
But De Lima’s camp asked the Muntinlupa RTC to deny for “utter lack of merit” the bid of the DOJ to amend the drug trafficking case against the Senator.
In a 17-page opposition, lawyers of De Lima said the DOJ, through the National Prosecution Service (NPS) is not simply amending the charges but substituting a new case.
On February, 2017, De Lima, together with her nephew Jose Adrian Dera have been charged with a case for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act, specifically Section 5 in relation to Section 3 (jj), Sections 26 (b) and 28.
Section 5 prohibits the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals.”
Section 3(jj) refers to trading of illegal drugs. On the other hand, Section 26 pertains to “any attempt or conspiracy” to import, sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, distribute and transport illegal drugs, and maintain a drug den, produce narcotics and cultivate sources of illicit substances while Section 28 covers the criminal liability of public officials involved in the proliferation of narcotics.
However, the DOJ, last month filed an amended information asking the court to instead charge the two of conspiracy to sell, trade illegal drugs.
But state prosecutors decided last month to file an amended information asking the court to instead charge the two of conspiracy to sell, trade illegal drugs.
The DOJ opted to amend the information after Solicitor General Jose Calida, during the oral argument at the Supreme Court said De Lima should have been charged for violation of Section 26 of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, instead of violation of Section 5 of the said law.
In their opposition, the De Lima camp explained that the crime of “conspiracy to trade drugs” is distinct and different from the offense of “drug trading.”
“The evidence sufficient to justify a conviction for “conspiracy to trade drugs” cannot be enough to support a guilty verdict for “drug trading.”
“The two (2) offenses are not the same where “conspiracy to trade drugs” is separately criminalized under Section 26 of RA 9165, while “drug trading” is penalized under Section 5 of the same law. The operative act in “conspiracy to trade drugs” is the agreement and decision to commit the crime; while the gravamen in “drug trading” is the trafficking of dangerous drugs, precursors or essential chemicals with the use of electronic devices, or with the facilitation of a broker,” read the Senator’s opposition..
De Lima’s lawyers, meanwhile, wants Judge Juanito Guerrero of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 to inhibit from hearing the case due to “obvious partiality and questionable independence.”
She said Guerrero has “displayed an unseemly and undue haste” in ensuring her detention and depriving her of liberty. She added that the judge “acted with evident partiality and bad faith in compounding the violations of her constitutional rights.
The case for illegal drug trading lodged at Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 originated from the complaint filed by former NBI deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer in charge Rafael Ragos, and De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan, before the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The complaint – which she said made use of perjured testimonies of convicted felons during the Congressional Hearing – focused on illegal drug trading allegedly committed from Nov. 2012 to March 2013, while De Lima served as DOJ Secretary.
According to De Lima’s camp, however, the prosecutor filed a Motion to Amend Information last Nov. 10 but the Senator’s counsels have yet to receive a copy of the said motion.
De Lima argued that Guerrero should stop from conducting further proceedings on her cases because the judge has supposedly violated the Senator’s constitutional rights repeatedly.
Noting the events that transpired in the past year, De Lima recounted Guerrero’s illegal issuance of a warrant of arrest against her, the judge’s inaction of the MTQ, and the latter’s scheduling of the Senator’s arraignment prior to deciding on the pending MTQ and MR filed before the SC.
“The glaringly clear, single-minded over-eagerness to detain accused De Lima based on an invalid Information that is irredeemably and irreparably tainted and made defective by, among others, the rampant and blatant violation of Accused De Lima’s rights, is quite evident,” she said.
“An impartial judge, acting on the red flags indicating serious infirmities and irregularities that attended the preliminary investigation of the case, would have given greater respect and protection to the accused constitutional rights,” she added.
On Feb. 23, Guerrero ordered the arrest of De Lima even without resolving her Motion to Quash (MTQ) – which questions the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court on handling her case – that was expected to be heard the next day, Feb. 24.
Last Oct. 10, the High Tribunal ruled against De Lima’s petition to nullify the arrest warrant issued against her by Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 for the trumped-up charge of illegal drug trade allegedly committed when she was justice secretary.
In a 24-page motion for reconsideration on Nov. 3, De Lima said the High Tribunal should immediately rectify the continuing grave injustice committed against her because the majority of its members cannot even agree on the nature and cause of accusation against her.
“It is clear, therefore, that proceeding with the arraignment, while the precise question of what is the nature of the charge against accused De Lima, would be a gross violation of her constitutional right to be accorded due process of the law, and to be informed of the nature of the charge against her,” she said.
“If not even the members of the Supreme Court, reading the exact same Information, can agree on the nature of the charge, how can this court validly claim that the arraignment it has scheduled would properly apprise the accused of the nature of the charge against her, enable her to enter a provident plea, and mount an intelligent defense,” she added.”
The scheduled arraignment on Thursday of De Lima at Branch 204 of the Muntinlupa City RTC was reset to Jan. 24, 2018
In her Motion for Inhibition and to Defer Arraignment she filed last Thursday, De Lima also asked the High Tribunal to defer her arraignment pending the resolution of the Motion for Reconsideration (MR) she filed with the Supreme Court (SC).
“It is incumbent upon this court to hold in abeyance the scheduled arraignment. Otherwise, such an act would be tantamount to this court pre-empting the Supreme Court and arrogating unto herself the authority to have a final say on the jurisprudential effect of the Supreme Court’s Decision,” she said.