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In trial's pivotal turn, De Lima says DOJ obscured truth about drug trade

The Department of Justice (DOJ) "obscured and obstructed" the truth about the Bilibid drug trade, Senator Leila de Lima said in a lengthy pleading filed before a Muntinlupa court as she reaches a pivotal turn in her trial, putting her a step closer towards possible exoneration. 

De Lima, who will mark her fourth year in detention over drug charges next month, said the prosecution team turned a blind eye on real evidence against former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, so it can focus on her and jail her.

The DOJ dropped Ragos from the case to use him as a witness. De Lima claimed that since Ragos was released and turned into a witness, he was reinstated to his post at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

"It is clear that the conduct of the Prosecution in this case obscured rather than shed light on the truth about illegal activities in the New Bilbid Prison, and it had obstructed rather than promoted the service of justice by failing to put on trial those against whom the Prosecution have actual evidence of wrongdoing," De Lima said in an 82-page demurrer to evidence filed before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 on Friday, January 8.

This is the 2nd demurrer to evidence that De Lima has filed in the same court in the same week, as Branch 205 Judge Liezel Acquiatan allowed her to seek an outright dismissal of her cases.

In trial, after the prosecution is done with presenting evidence, the defense has a choice to file a pleading called demurrer to evidence in which it demonstrates to the court how the prosecution's case is so weak she can be cleared without presenting her own evidence.

But to be able to file the demurrer, De Lima must first get the permission or the leave of court. Acquiatan granted the permission – which does not always happen.

De Lima's 3rd charge is pending before a different court, where the prosecution is still set to present a witness for purposes of the senator's bail plea.

De Lima has been in detention for 3 years and 11 months, or since February 24, 2017. (READ: DOJ's contempt suit against De Lima limits access to a trial watched by the world)

Obstruction?

De Lima focused on the way that the prosecution dropped Ragos from the case to turn him into a witness.

Calling him "without a doubt the weakest link in the prosecution case," De Lima recalled how Ragos denied participation in the drug trade in 3 sworn statements starting from the 2016 House hearings.

But after the DOJ converted him into a witness, Ragos executed a new affidavit in March 2017 where he detailed how convict Hans Tan called him to say that there's money left on his bed to be delivered to De Lima. Ragos said he delivered those money to De Lima on two different occasions in November and December 2012.

"This is a textbook example of a bargained-for-testimony, wherein a purported witness receives benefit in exchange for his testimony against another," said De Lima.

In a hearing in 2019, former Criminal Investigative and Detection Group (CIDG) chief and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said Ragos was the one who turned up in their intel as being "involved in extorting and receiving payola from high profile inmates."

"The Prosecution succeeded in proving wrongdoings committed by government officials. Unfortunately, however, the Prosecution dropped the charges against the right person – Ragos – and proceeded to persecute an innocent personherein Accused De Lima," said the pleading.

Tan also never mentioned the November and December 2012 deliveries in his earlier affidavits, De Lima said.

On the witness stand, Tan said "the alleged deliveries that are the subject of this case were never mentioned because [I] tried to stay away from politics," according to the pleading.

"The Prosecution spent the last 4 years attempting to construct an elaborate maze of smokes and mirrors that they hoped would be sufficient to misdirect the Honorable Court into thinking that zero plus zero equals one," said the pleading.

The late Jaybee Sebastian

Tan said on the witness stand that it was high-profile drug convict Jaybee Sebastian who told him that De Lima was soliciting drug trade money to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.

But Tan never directly talked to De Lima, nor her bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.

It seems, De Lima said, that Sebastian is the "lynchpin" of the Bilibid drug trade. When he was alive, Sebastian pleaded guilty to the charge, and the DOJ was going to get his testimony, too.

But Sebastian died of COVID-19 in July 2020, although he supposedly executed an affidavit beforehand.

"As a result of the Prosecution’s seeming indecision to present Sebastian while he was still alive, there is now no opportunity for the claims of Hans Anton Tan to be affirmed or denied," said the pleading.

As to the money trail, affidavits of the prosecution's witness from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) showed that the council's investigation of bank accounts related to the Bilibid drug trade established no direct link to De Lima.

"This Demurrer to Evidence highlights the absolute failure of the Prosecution to present any evidence to establish the guilt of herein Accused," said De Lima.

"To put it succinctly, the Honorable Court and the Accused must be spared from this travesty of justice," she added.

The prosecution will be given a chance to respond to De Lima's demurrer to evidence. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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