MANILA, Philippines – Drug convict Jaybee Sebastian will plead guilty to one count of drug trade in the cases of Senator Leila de Lima pending before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Friday, May 18.
“There was already a manifestation from his lawyer that he is willing to enter a plea of guilty,” DOJ Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ramonsito Ocampo said.
Sebastian is accused alongside De Lima in Criminal Case No. 17-167 being handled by Branch 206 under newly-assigned Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo. It is one of the 3 counts of drug trading the senator is facing.
Under the case, De Lima is accused of conspiring – with Sebastian, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Jesus Bucayu, Bucayu’s former staff Wilfredo Elli, Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former security aide Joenel Sanchez, and a certain nephew Jad de Vera – to trade drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison to allegedly raise funds for her 2016 senatorial bid.
De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon downplayed the impact of Sebastian’s looming guilty plea, saying that because it’s a capital offense, the DOJ will still be required to present evidence against the convict.
It has been the De Lima camp’s long-standing challenge for the DOJ to present physical evidence against the senator, and not just testimonies of drug convicts.
“From the start alam naman nating inosente eh, kahit na sino pa ang umamin diyan, kung inosente naman talaga siya, hindi kami maaapektuhan. For sure, hindi naman niyan madadala ang depensa ni Senator De Lima,” Tacardon said.
(We know that she’s innocent, no matter who admits to a supposed crime, if she’s really innocent we will not be affected. For sure, it will not get in the way of Senator De Lima’s defense.)
Sebastian was the only drug convict retained in the charges, as the DOJ cleared the rest to use them as state witnesses. Former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos has also been cleared and discharged as state witness.
Separate or simultaneous trial?
Tacardon said they will move that Sebastian be tried separately when he pleads guilty.
The DOJ wants the trial to be simultaneous.
“We move that the trial of Sebastian and De Lima being tried by Branch 206 be tried simultaneously, not separately,” Ocampo said.
How the trial will be held will be a matter of strategy for both camps, especially for the senator.
If Sebastian is tried, he will be tried inside Bilibid, not Muntinlupa RTC.
“Under the circular, a sentence prisoner cannot be brought out of Bilibid,” Ocampo said.
If the court decides to be economical with its resources, a simultaneous trial may mean De Lima would be required to go inside Bilibid for the trial – something the camp may not want.
De Lima’s arraignments were once again reset on Friday. The courts handling the 3 cases had approved DOJ’s amended information, changing it from illegal drug trading to conspiracy to trade illegal drugs.
The courts had also denied De Lima’s motion for reconsideration against the amended information, so the senator’s lawyers filed a motion to quash, which caused the reset of the schedule.
Tacardon said the DOJ effectively filed a new information, which he said, was clear proof that they are fake charges. Tacardon also noted that for the first time on Friday, the DOJ was compelled to identify the drugs as shabu.
“We didn’t get it wrong, we just wanted to make clear the indictment. The evidence that we will be using in the original information are also the same evidence that we will be utilizing in the amended information,” Ocampo said.
Ocampo and the DOJ are aided by a Supreme Court ruling which says “the trial court can simply order that another complaint or information be filed without discharging the accused from custody.”
It was a ruling that dissenter Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called one of the “grossest injustices” committed in the country. – Rappler.com
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