Muntinlupa court must rule if Bilibid convicts valid witnesses vs De Lima
MANILA, Philippines – Detained Senator Leila de Lima and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have gone head to head on the admissibility of testimonies of drug and murder convicts against the lawmaker.
Lodged before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) are two motions – one from De Lima asking the court to disqualify the convicts as witnesses, and another from the DOJ prosecution asking that the court proceed and even hold hearings inside the New Bilibid Prison.
De Lima has asked Muntinlupa RTC Branches 204, 205, and 206 to disqualify as witnesses the 13 inmates who have been convicted for drugs, murder, homicide, kidnapping and robbery, and who have been sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison.
The convicts were dropped from De Lima’s 3 counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading inside Bilibid, and were turned state witnesses by the DOJ under then-secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
The charges are mainly anchored on the testimonies of convicts that De Lima allowed them to trade drugs inside Bilibid in exchange for commissions that she allegedly used to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.
De Lima said the convicts’ crimes involve moral turpitude which, based on Section 10 (F) of the Witness Protection Act, should disqualify them from being witnesses.
Ironically, De Lima used the legal concept of void ab initio and asked the court to void the grant of immunity to the convicts for being illegal.
While the courts decide on that request, it is possible that the next hearing on September 25 will be held in Camp Aguinaldo where two of the convicts, Herbert Colanggo (robbery with homicide) and Engelbert Durano (frustrated murder and murder), had been transferred for security reasons.
“They're talking about it. Ang sabi ni (According to) Judge they will coordinate with Aguinaldo,” said De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon.
Police Superintendent Jerry Valeroso took the witness stand for the prosecution at Branch 206 on Tuesday, September 18.
At the House hearings in 2016, Valeroso said inmate Sam Lee Chua had P65 million before De Lima led a raid of Bilibid in 2014, but that after the raid, the cash was gone.
Tacardon said that Valeroso’s testimony on Tuesday was very detailed, supposedly in contrast to his testimony in 2016, when the policeman said he only based it on information fed to him by Nonile Arile, a former cop turned convict but who moonlights as a government asset inside the national penitentiary.
“Noong nag-testify siya sa Congress in 2016, sinabi niya wala daw sinabi sa kanya si Sam Lee Chua at kinuha niya lang 'yung information galing kay Arile. (Pero) noong tinatanong siya ng cross ng aming counsel, si Atty Rigoroso, regarding kung ano 'yung mga nakita niya noong 2014 sa loob ng New Bilibid Prison, he was very graphic. Alam niya na may TV si Sam Lee Chua. Alam niya na may kama. Alam niya na may hot shower and everything,” said Tacardon.
(When he testified in Congress in 2016, he said Sam Lee Chua did not tell him anything but that he got his information from Arile. But when he was cross examined by our lawyer Atty Rigoroso regarding with what he saw in 2014 at the New Bilibid Prison, he was very graphic. He knew Sam Lee Chua has TV, he knew he has bed, that he has a hot shower and everything.)
Tacardon added that Valeroso has admitted to being an Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) member. (READ: Inside Bilibid: Resurgence, resignation, 'recanting')
“No offense meant sa ating mga kapatid sa Iglesia pero alam 'nyo naman kung ano 'yung background ni Senator De Lima with Iglesia ni Cristo. So this is still part of the persecution na ginagawa kay Senator De Lima,” Tacardon said, referring to the mass actions held by the INC against De Lima in 2015 when then-justice secretary pushed for an investigation into the church’s leaders accused of detaining its own members.
(No offense meant to our Iglesia brothers and sisters but you know what Senator De Lima's background is with Iglesia Ni Cristo. So this is still part of the persecution against Senator De Lima.)
Apart from Valeroso, another government official who will be tapped by the prosecution is former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) OIC Rafael Ragos.
Ragos was initially charged alongside De Lima, but the DOJ dropped him from the case to turn him into a witness. A Rappler source said Ragos had begun executing an affidavit, while the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probed a new drugs case against the embattled senator, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's staunchest critics.
Another inmate who was charged, Jaybee Sebastian, had already pleaded guilty. De Lima decried this as “pressure by Duterte operators.” – Rappler.com