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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Five of the 12 inmates who testified against Senator Leila de Lima during the House probe into the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) illegal drug trade have pending pardon or executive clemency applications.
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano revealed this on Tuesday, October 18, after asking the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) if any of the NBP inmates who testified had previously requested pardon, probation, or executive clemency.
He wrote the letter on October 11 and received the reply of BPP Executive Director Reynaldo Bayan 3 days later.
The convicts concerned are as follows:
The 5 were among the witnesses who pinned down De Lima during the 4 hearings conducted by the House committee on justice. The committee is done with its investigation and has finished its report, which it has yet to release to the public.
They also claimed that two of De Lima's former aides – bodyguard and driver Ronnie Dayan and security aide Joenel Sanchez – were her supposed bagmen and lovers. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)
They were all granted immunity from suit based on their testimonies by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte. The immunity meant that their testimonies before the House may not be used against them in court.
Aguirre: No knowledge
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II had presented all the witnesses before the House panel, but he insisted that he had no influence whatsoever on the inmates' testimonies.
Aguirre denied knowledge of these pending applications. "I was never aware of their pending applications. Never brought to my attention but pardoning them was never considered,” he said in a text message to reporters.
LOOK: Board of Pardons & Parole confirms 5/12 inmate witnesses vs De Lima have pending requests for parole/exec clemency @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/cSAayvyqeQ — Mara Cepeda (@maracepeda) October 18, 2016
Still, Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman expressed concern, saying the inmates' participation in the House probe could be their "ticket" to clemency.
"Itong mga applications na 'to (These applications) for clemency or pardon will be enhanced by their cooperation in giving their testimonies. Itong posibleng ticket nila (This could be their ticket) for clemency," said Lagman.
He said the pardon requests could be treated as another proof that the House probe was intended as a smear campaign against De Lima, the fiercest critic of Duterte.
"The resource persons and witnesses who testified were all under the jurisdiction of the secretary of justice because the Bureau of Corrections and the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) are attached agencies. 'Pag merong prosecution, pupunta sa Department of Justice (If there is prosecution, it goes to the Department of Justice). Ang masama pa nito (What's bad is that) the secretary of justice is the alter ego of the President and the executive should not actively participate in the proceedings of a committee of Congress," said Lagman.
'Fear of the unknown'
Asked for his reaction, committee on justice chairperson Representative Reynaldo Umali said: "That is, as usual, a concern that a minority group would always raise but for me that is fear of the unknown."
He added that the witnesses' requests for pardon are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and the Office of the President, not his committee.
"Well, that is the call of the secretary of justice. Remember, these inmate witnesses were recommended for immunity by the secretary of justice. Likewise, on matters of parole, that is the province of the secretary of justice who recommends to the President any of these initiatives that really should have come from the secretary of justice," he said.
According to Umali, the committee members were not aware of the convicts' pending pardon requests prior to the hearings. – Rappler.com