At 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, Leila de Lima, 57, married but separated, was ushered into her detention cell at the northern suburban Quezon City Camp Crame national headquarters of the Philippine National Police.
By the standards of her rarified stature as an incumbent senator of barely one year and a former secretary of justice for six years, the 100-square meter room is Spartan, simple without air-conditioning, but safe and secure, away from the madding crowd outside of the walls of sprawling Camp Crame. There is a bathroom with a toilet but no shower.
If she has any complaint about her meager cell, De Lima did not make it apparent the morning after her first day of incarceration. “I prepared myself for this psychologically,” she told visitors Saturday morning, gingerly ambling about on a concrete yard outside her cell, in bright yellow T-shirt, denim jeans and sandals, putting on a brave, stoic face.
De Lima shares what is euphemistically called the PNP Custodial Center with 25 others, including two former senators whom as the Justice secretary of President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, she maneuvered to be arrested and jailed on charges of plunder, a non-bailable offense.
Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada were among the most popular senators of the land when De Lima ordered them arrested in mid-2014 and would have contested the presidential elections of May 2016. Who knows had not De Lima sent Bong Revilla to jail, he would have been elected president. Would De Lima be in jail today?
As Justice secretary, De Lima also defied a Supreme Court order in November 2011 to allow former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to board a plane to seek medical help abroad following a botched neck surgery. De Lima jailed Arroyo on a flimsy charge of electoral sabotage and when the former president was about to be freed of the charge, she was quickly slapped with a case of alleged plunder for P366 million of sweepstakes money she never touched. When Duterte became president, Arroyo was released from detention after nearly five years in a military hospital jail. Now a congressman, Arroyo has become a close adviser of President Duterte.
During De Lima’s stint as secretary of Justice (July 2010-October 2015), alleged drug lords at Bilibid, 19 of them, were allowed rooms or kubols that put to shame the suites of snooty Shangri-La Hotel, courtesy of De Lima.
In 2014, “the kubols of the 19 high-profile inmates were found with sauna, jacuzzi, expensive watches, music studio, wide screen TV sets, split type air conditioning units, cash totaling P5,139,545, $2,601, and ¥100, various caliber of firearms, cellphones, bags of shabu and other items.”
Though now a high-profile prisoner, at her Camp Crame cell, De Lima is denied amenities denied other prisoners of lesser caliber—a television set, a laptop, a cellphone, as well as the usual coterie of subalterns at her beck and call. She wanted to continue her work as a senator, she claimed. So she was given a small anteroom outside her sleeping quarters to serve as an office. Only her lawyers, relatives, Senate colleagues and those prescreened and qualified by the PNP top brass can visit her.
Leila de Lima is accused of three counts of illegal drug trading farmed out to three different Regional Trial Court salas and three different judges of Muntinlupa City at the southern tip of the national capital region, 25 kms away from PNP.
De Lima is now in jail by virtue of the arrest warrant and order of arrest issued by the judge in the first case, Juanita Guerrero of RTC Branch 204 who handles Criminal Case No. 17-165. De Lima’s co-accused in Case 17-165 include her former driver and boyfriend, Ronnie Palisoc Dayan, and former Bureau of Corrections officer in charge and National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Rafael Z. Ragos.
Other co-accused are: Francisco F. Baraan III, a former Justice undersecretary; Franklin Jesus B,. Bucayu, a former head of Bilibid or National Penitentiary; Senior Supt. Wilfredo Ely, Joenel Sanchez, and Jose Adrian Dera, aka Jad de Vera, and high-profile maximum security inmate Jaybee Sebastian.
Dayan was alleged as her bagman while Ragos confessed to delivering up to P5 million of alleged drug money to De Lima’s bayside house in Parañaque City, west of Metro Manila in late November 2012 when De Lima was still secretary of justice and had overall supervision over both the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor or Bilibid). Ragos was a director III of the NBI and for a time headed BuCor.
For the two other cases, Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 handles Criminal Case No. 17-166 while Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas de Leon has CC 17-167.
In Case 17-166, De Lima’s co-accused is Jose Adrian “Jad” Dera, who is said to be her nephew.
In Case 17-167. De Lima’s co-accused include former BuCor chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu, her alleged bagman Wilfredo Ely, De Lima’s former aide Joenel Sanchez, convicted felony Jaybee Sebastian and Jad Dera.
The three illegal drug trading cases are based on the complaints filed before the Department of Justice in October 2016 by three groups.
In criminal prosecutions, the DoJ usually is the first level of cases. A DoJ prosecutor tries to find a probable cause before filing the case in a competent court, in De Lima’s cases, the Regional Trial Courts of suburban Muntinlupa City. In high-profile cases, no less than the Justice secretary supervises the finding of probable cause during a preliminary investigation and the filing of cases before the lower courts.
The first case, now designated by RTC Branch 204 as Criminal Complaint 17-165, was filed Oct. 10, 2016 with the DoJ, by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption headed by Dante Jimenez.
The other two cases were filed at the DoJ on Oct. 11, 2016, a Tuesday, and Oct. 12, 2016, a Wednesday.
In the two other cases, De Lima is accused of receiving P8 million in payoffs from a drug syndicate in the Visayas. She is described as “the mother of all drug lords.”
In the criminal complaint they filed Oct. 10 at the DoJ, former National Bureau of Investigation deputy directors Ruel Lasala and Reynaldo Esmeralda charged De Lima and former NBI officer in charge Rafael Ragos with drug trafficking inside the New Bilibid Prison itself.
“De Lima, acting as the mother of all drug lords and through the use of her authority, was able to appoint and designate men inside the NBP in order to ensure the perpetuation of illegal drug trade,” the former NBI officials said in their 20-page complaint-affidavit.
The third complaint, filed on Oct. 11, 2016, at the DoJ, by the police chief of Albuera, Leyte province, accuses De Lima of receiving at least P8 million in payoffs before the May elections from the biggest drug syndicate in Eastern Visayas.