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Sunday, December 10, 2023

De Lima sees last drug charge being dismissed

Former Senator Leila De Lima has expressed optimism that she would be eventually cleared of drug cases following a trial judge’s grant of her petition for bail on Monday.

Meanwhile, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said he respected the judge’s decision to grant bail for De Lima but raised doubts about its timing.

De Lima on Wednesday indicated in a TV interview that the magistrate, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Judge Gener Gito, probably believed the prosecution failed to build a strong case against her.

“If you look at it… he (judge) did come up with the conclusion that the evidence of guilt is not strong. He found those testimony… also lacking credibility and that conspiracy was not proven,” the senator said on ANC news.

“If anyone has read the bail decision of the honorable judge… he would have the same thinking… He would have that natural conclusion that a dismissal of a case or an acquittal would be a logical conclusion,” she said.

De Lima also cited the views of former presidential spokesman Harry Roque that the remaining case against here would be eventually dismissed.

“There is only one remaining case, and he (Roque) knows the outcome of this case now,” she added.

A vocal critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte during his term, De Lima was released from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Monday night after posting bail.

De Lima also revealed she would pursue a case against Aguirre, Duterte’s Justice Secretary, being one of her tormentors.

“It is under discussion with my team. When exactly we would do that, what exactly is the case to be filed against him, that is still being studied,” she said.

“For now, the focus of our team is to have this remaining case dismissed. Either on demurrer and/or later if the demurrer is not granted, is to work on my acquittals up to the presentation of the defense evidence,” added the human rights lawyer.

Prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimonies against the former senator, claiming they were merely coerced into implicating her in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City when she was still Justice Secretary during the watch of the late President Benigno Aquino III.

According to De Lima, some other witnesses were also considering retracting their testimonies.

She clarified however, that it would be incorrect to conclude that she was granted bail because the government witnesses have recanted.

“It is just that the new judge… in reviewing thoroughly and scrutinizing the whole records of the case found that there was no sufficient evidence. Found lots of loopholes and inconsistencies and incredibility in the witnesses, in the testimonies of most or all bail witnesses,” she said.

Aguirre said: “We respect the decision of the judge, but why after seven years did he see that the evidence was weak. Over the years, Secretary De Lima attempted to post bail, why did she fail to do it then?”

He also quoted Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, the police chief during the Duterte administration, as saying in the Philippines, the justice system also changes when the administration changes, and that “strong cases become weak.”

The cases against De Lima went through a lengthy buildup, Aguirre said, who noted that one of the three cases against her was dismissed during the previous administration.

“This means when the evidence is weak, the case would be dismissed. Did Duterte interfere? Did I intervene there? No,” he said.

Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo earlier claimed that “the recanting witnesses have not proven before the court that their previous adverse testimonies on De Lima were done under the threat or that they were coerced into falsely testifying before the court.”

Panelo said even without the testimonies, “there is strong evidence establishing the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Before her arrest in 2017, De Lima spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor and in the early days of his 2016-2022 presidency.

She conducted the probes first while serving as the nation’s human rights commissioner, then as justice secretary in the Aquino administration.

De Lima won a Senate seat in 2016, becoming one of the body’s few opposition voices after Duterte’s landslide victory. Duterte then accused her of running a drug trafficking ring.

Campaigning from behind bars, De Lima made a failed bid for re-election to the Senate last year. With AFP

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