Ex-CIDG chief: DOJ witness vs De Lima was involved in drug trade

Lian Buan

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Ex-CIDG chief: DOJ witness vs De Lima was involved in drug trade
Retired police general Benjamin Magalong tells a Muntinlupa judge that they learned Rafael Ragos 'was involved in extorting and receiving payola from high profile inmates'

MANILA, Philippines – The former chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) told a Muntinlupa judge on Friday, February 22, that intelligence reports pointed to the prosecution witness against detained Senator Leila de Lima as the one involved in the Bilibid drug trade.

“We learned that Ragos was involved in extorting and receiving payola from high profile inmates,” former CIDG chief retired police general Benjamin Magalong told the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 on Friday.

Magalong was referring to former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, who was previously charged alongside De Lima for conspiracy to commit illegal drugs. In November 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped the charges against him to use him as a witness.

Magalong is also a DOJ witness.

“Siya pa ngayon ang ine-exclude eh siya ang tingin namin pinaka-guilty dito eh. Wala namang reinvestigation na ginawa ang DOJ para ma-exclude. Ang korte, they should have taken more active steps before excluding Ragos on the basis only of the prosecution’s recommendation,” said De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon.

(He’s the one being excluded when we think he’s the most guilty. The DOJ did not conduct a reinvestigation to exclude him. And the court should have taken more active steps before excluding Ragos on the basis only of the prosecution’s recommendation.)

After almost two years since charging and detaining De Lima, the trial for her 3 charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drugs finally started.

Prosecutor Rudy Ricamora insisted that excluding Ragos was a “prerogative of the prosecution.”

“There might be supervening events there that might have motivated to cause the second panel to exclude him from the information,” said Ricamora, who clarified that their team of trial court prosecutors are not the same people who made the decision to exclude Ragos.

It was Judge Juanita Guerrero who granted the DOJ’s request to drop Ragos. The De Lima camp is now appealing to the new judges to reinstate Ragos.

Magalong clears De Lima in testimony

The DOJ put Magalong on the stand to establish the basic premise that there was drug trade inside Bilibid.

Magalong told Branch 205 Judge Liezel Aquiatan that as CIDG chief in 2014, his team conducted an exhaustive investigation into the drug trade in Bilibid where they were able to identify high-profile inmates and other key personalities.

Magalong said he brought their intelligence to De Lima who, as secretary of justice, had supervision over the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). After high-level meetings, Magalong would find out that the DOJ conducted raids into the national jails without the CIDG.

“Up to now I’m still wondering,” Magalong said, referring to the CIDG exclusion.

On the cross examination of De Lima’s lawyer Teddy Rigoroso, Magalong cleared De Lima at least based on the investigation of the CIDG when he headed it.

“During your time, did you receive reports that De Lima has links to the drug trade?” Rigoroso asked.

“None, Sir,” Magalong answered.

Ricamora said that they want to highlight why De Lima decided to leave out the CIDG in the raids.

“According to them, it’s within their jurisdiction, but you have to understand the planning ng CIDG matagal nilang ginawa, tapos bigla silang nawala eh sayang naman ‘yun (they investigated for a long time and suddenly they were removed, that’s a waste)…They have to explain why,” Ricamora said.

Ricamora said that because the CIDG was excluded, any reports against De Lima would not have reached Magalong. 

“Definitely may madidiscover ka in between, ang sinasabi niya hininto kasi eh hindi namin naabot ang dapat abutin (Definitely you would discover some things in between, what Magalong is saying is because they stopped, they couldn’t reach everything),” Ricamora said.

On the witness stand, Magalong said that although they considered the DOJ-led raids to be successful, he also believed hat “if only we were involved, sana mas marami pang nakuha (we could have confiscated more).”

Ragos and Bucayu

Magalong said that going into the high-level meetings, he already had intelligence against Ragos, but he did not know what he looked like.

In the middle of the first meeting, a staff whispered to him that Ragos was present in the room. Magalong said that was only when he stopped the meeting to ask De Lima to make Ragos leave.

De Lima agreed.

Another key personality is former BuCor Director Franklin Bucayu.

Magalong said he would have wanted Bucayu to lead the joint operation, but Bucayu declined and even tried to discourage him from proceeding.

“Lagi niyang sinasabi, ‘Benjie, huwag mo ituloy, delikado ako at ang pamilya ko (He would always tells me, ‘Benjie don’t proceed with this, it would put me and my family at risk),’” Magalong said.

Judge Aquiatan asked Magalong if he asked Bucayu why he was not supportive of the operation.

“We know the situation where many NBP personnel were killed. So when he realized he could not dissuade me, sabi niya,  Benjie baka puwedeng gawan mo ng paraan na mag-meeting kami ni Secretary De Lima, please lang (he told, me, ‘Benjie could you find a way for me to meet Secretary De Lima, please),” Magalong said.

Magalong added that Bucayu recused himself from the operation after that, and that it might have caused the “complications” in the plan because “his participation was crucial.”

Bucayu is charged alongside De Lima. Bucayu is also detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center.

The De Lima camp has elevated to the Court of Appeals its contention against the use of convicted inmates as state witnesses. As such, the prosecutors said their next witnesses would be former officers of the CIDG who could clarify some details about the operation the way Magalong did.

Asked if they had any other witness who could implicate De Lima who is not a convicted inmate, Ricamora said, “We will see.” 

De Lima has challenged the prosecution to present physical evidence of her involvement such as bank trails. Ricamora said to just wait through the course of the trial. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.