Department of Justice

DOJ stands by charges vs De Lima, hands off in alleged coercion by officials

Lian Buan

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DOJ stands by charges vs De Lima, hands off in alleged coercion by officials
'I hope that it is now clear to the Filipino people that the false charges against me were the product of a longstanding conspiracy involving high government officials,' says Senator Leila de Lima

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has downplayed the retraction of its star witness, former corrections acting chief Rafael Ragos, saying it still has a strong case against jailed Senator Leila de Lima.

Ragos’ affidavit accused high officials of the DOJ, led by former secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, prosecutors, executives of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and even public attorneys of being involved in the coercion to make him invent a false testimony against De Lima.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday, May 2, that the DOJ will be hands off in investigating the alleged coercion.

“It will be to everyone’s interest that any inquiry into the truthfulness of Mr. Ragos’ recent allegations be conducted by an independent agency with jurisdiction to do it, specifically the Office of the Ombudsman,” Guevarra told reporters Monday. Guevarra assumed office only in 2018 and, to a large extent, is being spared even by De Lima herself in her bid to hold her accusers accountable.

Guevarra said they will refer the matter to the Ombudsman once Ragos’ affidavit reaches the DOJ officially. “We cannot endorse something that we do not have in the first place,” said Guevarra.

Unlike the retraction of detained alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, Ragos’ was much more impactful because he was a co-respondent-turned-government witness in the remaining two drug charges against De Lima. Ragos’ testimony, complemented by that of his sidekick-turned-foe Jun Ablen, where both men claimed to have delivered money to De Lima, was what prompted one of the courts in Muntinlupa to continue trial.

But for the DOJ, Ragos’ retraction has lesser weight than his earlier testimonies, which he also delivered in person on the witness stand, examined by both prosecution and defense lawyers.

“As a rule, recantation is viewed with disfavor. The testimony of Ragos solemnly given in court is given more weight,” the DOJ said.

“The testimonies of the witnesses presented by the prosecution are enough to pin and prove the charges against accused Senator Leila M. de Lima and Ronnie Dayan,” the DOJ added.

One of their witnesses was Artemio Baculi Jr., financial investigator of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, whose financial trail investigation of the Bilibid drug trade showed no link to De Lima.

De Lima was the human rights chief who thoroughly investigated President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged Davao Death Squad when the President was still city mayor. Immediately after the drug war death toll began climbing, De Lima launched Senate inquires into it. In turn, Congress under Duterte held hearings that pinned her down in the drug trade.

The hearings, where Ragos and Espinosa started their accusations, resulted in De Lima’s jailing in 2017, which the Supreme Court backed in a decision called as the “grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world” by then dissenting magistrate Antonio Carpio.

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‘Truth often bides its time’

De Lima said “it is only a matter of time” before more people, especially the convict-witnesses, retract too and name those who coerced them as Espinosa and Ragos did.

“This is only expected as the mastermind of this despicable enterprise exits Malacañang at the end of his calamitous term,” said De Lima in a dispatch from Camp Crame Monday.

“Five years too late. But indeed, Truth often bides its time. It patiently waits and is never vanquished,” said De Lima, who is running a reelection campaign from jail.

In the April survey of Pulse Asia, De Lima – a veteran lawyer who served as human rights chief and justice chief – was way behind the Magic 12 in the preferential ratings of senatorial bets, placing only 21-27.

“I hope that it is now clear to the Filipino people that the false charges for illegal drug trading filed against me by the DOJ were the product of a longstanding conspiracy that started all the way back in September 2016 in the House of Representatives and the Senate, involving high government officials from the legislative and executive branches,” said De Lima. –

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Lian Buan

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