MANILA, Philippines – Detained alleged Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa has retracted all his accusations against opposition senator Leila De Lima, and writes in a sworn affidavit that he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened” to make all his past statement.
“Any and all statements given during the Senate hearings, or in the form of sworn written affidavits, against Senator Leila De Lima are not true,” said Espinosa in a counter-affidavit submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Thursday, April 28.
This is for a new case filed with the DOJ only in December 2021, and an offshoot of the alleged massive drug network being run supposedly from inside the New Bilibid Prison. De Lima is on trial for two more cases for being an alleged conspirator of the Bilibid drug trade in her capacity as former secretary of justice.
De Lima had been acquitted in one of the three cases; she has been in jail for five years.
Espinosa said before he paid De Lima payout drug money through the senator’s bodyguard Ronnie Dayan. But Espinosa’s Thursday’s affidavit said: “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.”
“For this, undersigned apologizes to Senator De Lima,” said the affidavit.
Espinosa claims the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed this new case against him “hoping he will cooperate and affirm in various courts his testimony given during the Senate hearings held in 2016.”
“But Espinosa has no intention of doing so since he was only coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened by the police. He has no other option but to invent stories for fear of his life and of his family,” said the affidavit.
Detained Kerwin Espinosa, in fighting own DOJ-level drug case, says he was “intimidated and seriously threatened by police” to cooperate in exchange of being cleared. In affidavit, Kerwin says “all of [my] statements against Senator Leila De Lima are not true.” @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/2FPi0KhIEu— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) April 28, 2022
DOJ claims retraction has no effect
Espinosa was a star witness in the sensational 2016 congressional hearings that ended up jailing De Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchest critic in the Senate. The Philippine justice department, however, did not proceed charging Espinosa in the offshoot cases, and neither did they use him as witness against De Lima.
De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon told Rappler in a phone call Thursday that they’d have to assess how this retraction affects the senator’s cases, given that Kerwin is neither a respondent nor a witness.
“Kerwin was initially named as a witness by the prosecution but along the way, the prosecution withdrew that manifestation,” Tacardon said, but added the “affidavit only proves the length the current administration has gone to fabricate testimonies and evidence against Senator De Lima.”
Espinosa is still detained for pending drug charges not related to De Lima’s cases before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC). Last year, he was cleared in one of the several cases against him.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra initially doubted the affidavit, saying”it was not subscribed before a prosecutor and was neither notarized” based on, he said, the copies of affidavit posted by reporters.
In a phone call, Espinosa’s lawyer Raymund Palad told Rappler the subscribed affidavit is in the possession of the prosecutor who conducted the hearing this morning. It was during that virtual hearing, Palad said, that they submitted the counter-affidavit and had Espinosa swear to it over the virtual call.
“Kerwin is detained in Bicutan, other respondents can go to notary, they have freedom of movement, you can’t expect a detainee to go to fiscal, so during the hearing Kerwin was on the screen, and he was asked to subscribe [to his affidavit],” said Palad.
Told of this, Guevarra said: “I have no personal knowledge. The office of the prosecutor general is currently verifying.”
Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento later told reporters the retraction would have no effect on the cases against De Lima “because he’s not our witness.”
“We hope that other witnesses will also come out and confess how they were intimidated, coerced, and bribed into making false testimonies against the good senator and if possible, name those who actively participated in coercing them to come up with such ridiculous narratives against the good senator,” said Tacardon.
In the duration of the trial, several witnesses, who are convicts, said on the stand that they had no knowledge or direct interaction with De Lima. After these, the DOJ tried to cut media access to the case by trying to hold in contempt De Lima’s lawyers who were providing updates to reporters. The pandemic limited media’s access to cover the public trial.
‘Free De Lima’
De Lima is running for re-election, but is mounting this campaign from jail.
Senator Francis Pangilinan of the opposition, running for vice president, said De Lima must now be freed.
“Napakalaking sampal sa katarungan ang mahigit limang taong pagkakapiit ni Senator Leila,” said Pangilinan.
(De Lima’s incarceration for more than five years is a huge shame to the justice system.)
Opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said: “Patunay lang ito na walang laman at gawa-gawa lang ang kaso laban kay Sen. Leila. Malinaw rin na ang mga kasong isinampa ay kapritso lang at paghihiganti.”
(This is proof that the case against Senator De Lima is empty and trumped-up. It is clear that the case was arbitrary and vengeful.)
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