Senator Leila de Lima has asked Branch 205 of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court to release her on bail, after her trial for the illegal drug case handled by the court failed to turn up enough admissible evidence of alleged guilt.
This motion for bail, filed on Thursday, August 13, and released to reporters the following day, is the opposition senator’s second plea for provisional release from detention. She sought bail for a similar case handled by the same regional trial court in June.
With 3 similar drug cases filed against her, De Lima has been in detention at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017.
This latest bail request involves Criminal Case No. 17-165 in which De Lima, along with her former aide Ronnie Dayan, are accused of violating Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act. Section 5 penalizes the "sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs."
“The record will show the clear absence of any sufficient admissible evidence, much less strong evidence, that will support her alleged guilt,” De Lima’s pleading said. Because of this, she is entitled to her constitutional right to liberty, it added.
“We dissected the testimonies of the prosecution's witnesses, and after more than three years of trial, the prosecution has yet to show proof of the alleged conspiracy between Senator De Lima and the supposed convicted drug lords,” Boni Tacardon, De Lima’s lawyer, told Rappler.
In the case, De Lima and former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos are said to have extorted money from inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) between November 2012 and March 2013, when De Lima was justice secretary.
By trading in illegal drugs from inside the national penitentiary, the inmates were allegedly able to produce more than P10 million to fund De Lima’s senatorial campaign in 2016. The money was supposedly coursed through Ragos, and then handed to Dayan, then on to De Lima.
According to Tacardon, witnesses presented by the prosecution at the trial gave testimonies that “tend to prove the innocence of Senator De Lima.”
Benjamin Magalong, a former police general and now mayor of Baguio City, told the court that there were no “integrity issues” with De Lima when they were investigating the drug trade inside the Bilibid, Tacardon said. Witnesses from the National Bureau of Investigation “attested” that De Lima’s raid of high-profile convicts’ “kubol” or bungalows was “above board and successful,” the lawyer added.
Witnesses at the trial said the P10 million given to Ragos actually came from inmate-turned-state witness Peter Co, to release members of his gang from solitary confinement. Co, at the witness stand, admitted that he himself was released from solitary confinement and returned to his kubol after handing over the money, according to Tacardon.
“The other witnesses were either incredible, unbelievable, or did not have any personal knowledge of the subject of their supposed testimonies,” Tacardon told Rappler.
Although aimed at seeking De Lima’s provisional release from detention, this latest bail plea is “important” because it puts on record that the charges against the senator “were trumped-up,” Tacardon said.
The cases were “merely based on the perjured testimonies of inmates who appear to have been pressured by government officials to weave a fantastic tale of the supposed criminal involvement of Senator De Lima in the illegal drug trade inside the NBP,” he added.
De Lima’s legal troubles began shortly after she ran a legislative investigation into extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. As head of the Commission on Human Rights, she also looked into killings in Davao City by the alleged “Davao Death Squad” when Duterte was mayor.
International rights groups and several US senators have condemned De Lima’s detention, and have called for sanctions against Philippine officials involved in her “political persecution.”
“The filing of this petition, we hope, will be a stepping stone towards the ultimate dismissal of the cases, and for the immediate release of Senator De Lima from jail,” Tacardon said. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.