De Lima on witness Vincent Sy's death: ‘Sino ang isusunod nila?’

Jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima expressed alarm over the recent death of convicted drug lord Vincent Sy, the second witness against her to have died during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sy, who died from cardiac arrest on July 29, was among the witnesses detained at the marine barracks in Fort Bonifacio, which President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered for their safety. 

Ano na naman ito!? Meron na naman namatay (o pinatay?) na high-profile inmate sa Bilibid. At cardiac arrest naman daw ang dahilan (What is this again?! Another high-profile inmate in Bilibid has died (or been killed?). And cardiac arrest is once again the reason),” De Lima said in a statement Sunday, August 1.

Sy’s death followed that of high-profile drug convict Jaybee Sebastian, who died July last year due to COVID-19. The Bureau of Corrections at the time said Sebastian was immediately cremated following protocol on COVID-19 related deaths. 

De Lima refused to rule out possible foul play after Sy’s death, saying it was not impossible that witnesses testifying against her would be “targeted” and “permanently silenced” to avoid revealing details of cases against her. She asserted that Sebastian’s death was likewise a case of “deliberate killing in order to block his then impending retraction of his affidavit falsely implicating me in the Bilibid drug trade.”

“It’s not remote that any, some, if not all, of these prosecution witnesses who were either coerced, threatened, bribed, or blackmailed to lie about my alleged drug links would be targeted for extermination in order to permanently silence them from exposing the truth about my cases,” she said.

Sino kaya ang isusunod nila? (Who will be next?),” De Lima added.

Safety of convict-witnesses

Sy, one of the prosecution’s witnesses who testified in court last year, said he "never met and never gave money" to the senator, according to De Lima's lawyer.

“He bluntly admitted on cross examination, and unreversed on re-direct examination, that he had no personal knowledge of the accusations against me, that he did not know me and he never gave me money, directly or indirectly,” De Lima said on Sunday.

The decision of De Lima’s team to disclose Sy’s statement led the justice department’s prosecution team to sue De Lima’s team for violating the sub judice rule, which prohibits lawyers and defendants from discussing the case in public. Prosecutors claimed the version of the testimony was not true, but refused to offer their own version due to same sub judice rule. 

On Sunday, De Lima expressed concern over the safety of convict-witnesses, which has been a long-standing issue in the detained senator’s case. 

Before his death, Sy had gotten hurt in a riot in Bilibid in October 2016, around the same period that he and other fellow convicts were summoned to the House of Representatives to testify against De Lima.

Last March, another witness against De Lima, Herbert Colanggo, also recorded and posted a video from his jail cell in Camp Aguinaldo where he ranted about his prison guards and claimed his life was at risk.

De Lima maintained that despite the “trend of witnesses dying,” she continues to wait to find out the identities of those involved in filing charges against her. Detained for nearly four years now, De Lima asserts drug charges against her were fabricated by the government.

“As they say, dead men tell no tales. And it appears that my persecutors are sticking to the malevolent wisdom of this saying. As if the truth can be eternally buried or is not inevitable. As if there's no day of reckoning,” she said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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