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MANILA, Philippines – Detained former senator Leila de Lima was acquitted by Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 in one of her remaining drug cases on Friday, May 12.
In the said case, De Lima and former Bureau of Corrections acting chief Rafael Ragos were accused of allegedly extorting money from illegal drug traders in New Bilibid Prison to fund her senatorial campaign in 2016.
Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara said in his ruling that the court acquitted De Lima because the retraction of Ragos created “reasonable doubt” about the accusations against the opposition leader.
Below are frequently asked questions about De Lima’s drug cases and responses to them.
How many cases were filed against De Lima and what was she accused of?
In total, De Lima was slapped with three charges.
In Criminal Case No. 17-165, the former lawmaker was accused of violating section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act that penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.” De Lima and Ragos were accused of allegedly extorting money from persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the New Bilibid Prison to fund De Lima’s 2016 senatorial run.
In Criminal Case Number 17-166, De Lima was accused of allegedly exercising influence on and allegedly extorting money from high-profile PDL Peter Co.
In Criminal Case No. 17-167, she was accused of allegedly tolerating the “widespread drug trade” inside Bilibid’s maximum security compound. Bilibid PDLs were also able to allegedly produce P70 million that was allegedly given to the former senator.
How long has she been in detention?
De Lima has been detained for more than six years, after being arrested on February 24, 2017.
She has been granted furlough twice, including two days in August 2019 to visit her ailing mother in Iriga City and three days in April 2021 for a hospital visit to rule out stroke. De Lima was also allowed in February 2022 to go on a video call with her mother who contracted COVID-19.
When and in which cases was she acquitted?
De Lima has been acquitted in two of the three cases filed against her – Criminal Case No. 17-165 and Criminal Case No. 17-166.
Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 granted De Lima’s petition for demurrer to evidence on February 17, 2021, effectively acquitting her from Criminal Case Number 17-166, in which she was linked to Peter Co. In that case, the court also said in its decision that the prosecution “did not present sufficient evidence to establish [Jad Dera]’s relationship or connection with De Lima” and that it “fails to establish any conspiracy between De Lima and Dera as there was nothing to link the two together.”
On May 12, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 acquitted De Lima in Criminal Case Number 17-165.
In which courts are the cases pending and who are the judges handling them?
Criminal Case No. 17-165 was handled by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 204, with Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara. Criminal Case No. 17-166 was handled by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 205, with Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan.
The only remaining pending case – Criminal Case No. 17-167 – is being handled Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256, with Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura.
What is the last pending case all about and when will it be resolved?
The trial for De Lima’s last case is still ongoing. On May 8, Boni Tacardon, one of De Lima’s lawyers, said Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 is still resolving the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence.
In the formal offer of evidence, a party submits documentary evidence and explains why the court should accept the evidence. This is also considered an early stage in the trial so the case might take more time.
Why didn’t the court handling the bail petition resolve it last May 8, 2023?
De Lima’s camp expected Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 to release its resolution on their petition for bail on May 8. However, the court opted to conduct a hearing after the prosecution filed a formal offer of evidence on April 11.
In an order dated May 5, Branch 256 Presiding Judge Buenaventura said there was a need to “appropriately rule on the offer of evidence,” noting “inconsistencies” in the markings of the offered evidence. Tacardon told reporters on May 8 that they agreed to address the concern, particularly the need to fix the markings in the submitted documents.
Meanwhile, the said court already set the next hearing for June 5, 2023 – but this hearing has nothing to do with De Lima’s bail because this would serve as continuation of the proceedings. The new set of information of evidence that will be presented on June 5 will not affect De Lima’s bail petition, according to Tacardon.
Can De Lima be freed before the June hearing or will she remain in detention?
Once RTC Branch 256 resolves the concern on the formal offer of evidence, the resolution for bail will likely follow. This means there’s a chance De Lima would be freed before the June 5 hearing as long as the court rules in favor of her bail petition.
In case the court fails to release its resolution, De Lima will remain in detention. However, she can walk free anytime as long as the said court grants her bail.
Will her acquittal on May 12 have any effect on that pending case?
No, since the two cases were handled by two different courts.
What are the remaining issues, if any, in this last pending case? Have there been recantations as well?
The case is still in its early stage. In fact, De Lima filed her supplemental petition for bail in February 2023. There have been no recantations yet because the prosecution has yet to solidify its accusations against De Lima.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Boying Remulla himself, however, warned that the DOJ would oppose De Lima’s petition for bail if her camp continues to push for her temporary release based on the merits of the case.
Who are the personalities who have recanted their testimonies and why?
Detained alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa retracted his accusations against De Lima in April 2018. He previously accused the then-senator of receiving drug money through her security aide Ronnie Dayan. In a sworn affidavit, he said that “any statement he made against the senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the alleged drug trade.”
Former BuCor acting chief Rafael Ragos retracted his accusations against De Lima on April 30, 2022. In a sworn affidavit, he said that “there is no truth whatsoever” to his claims regarding the delivery of money to De Lima and Dayan. The witness for the prosecution said he was forced to invent the allegations “upon the instruction of [then-justice secretary] Vitaliano Aguirre II.”
Dayan himself also recanted in May 2022 his allegations that he received drug payout on behalf of De Lima, admitting that he was coerced to make them. His lawyer Haidee Soriano said he took the stand during a hearing and that the statements he made were “upon the dictate” of then-Oriental Mindoro congressman Reynaldo “Rey” Umali, who led the congressional hearings against De Lima in 2016.
Are there sanctions for those who force witnesses to lie?
Grave coercion is punishable under the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Coercion is committed “by means of violence, threats or intimidation, prevent another from doing something not prohibited by law, or compel him to do something against his will, whether it be right or wrong,” according to the RPC.
The Supreme Court, in its 2011 ruling, also took note of coercion: “Violence through material force or such a display of it as would produce intimidation and, consequently, control over the will of the offended party is an essential ingredient.”
Anyone proven to commit grave coercion may be jailed from six months and one day, to six years, and a fine not exceeding six thousand pesos.
If De Lima is granted bail in her last pending case, will she be freed from detention?
If Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 grants De Lima bail, the former lawmaker will be freed because she has no other outstanding cases aside from the pending charge. – Rappler.com