Bilibid inmates cleared of drug charges, turn state witnesses vs De Lima

Lian Buan

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Bilibid inmates cleared of drug charges, turn state witnesses vs De Lima

Ben Nabong

The justice department's panel drops torture charges filed by inmate Jaybee Sebastian against Senator Leila de Lima

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped the drug trade charges against 5 high-profile inmates of the national penitentiary so they can be state witnesses against Senator Leila de Lima. 

In a press conference after the DOJ filed 3 cases against De Lima on Friday, February 17, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said drug charges against New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co had been dismissed because “they will be utilized as prosecution witnesses.”

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had earlier described two of the cleared inmates – Herbert Colanggo and Peter Co – as drug lords “beyond redemption” who would surely die if they left jail during his term.

In a 52-page resolution issued by the DOJ, the special panel of prosecutors dismissed charges of violation of Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act against the 5. They also dismissed charges against former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III “for insufficiency of evidence.”

The panel also dropped the torture charges filed by inmate Jaybee Sebastian against De Lima. He had alleged that De Lima had him locked up at Building 14 of the NBP when he was revealed as a government asset inside the prison. The charges were dropped “for lack of merit,” the prosecutors said.

On Friday afternoon, the DOJ filed drug charges before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) against De Lima, former Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu, former Bucor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, Bucayu’s former staff Wilfredo Elli, inmate Sebastian, De Lima’s driver Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former security aide Joenel Sanchez, and a certain Jad de Vera. The resolution from the DOJ identifies Dera as De Lima’s nephew, which the Senator denies.

De Lima, who is accused of allowing the drug trade inside NBP when she was justice secretary, is facing 3 counts of violation of Sections 5 and 28 of the Drugs Act. Section 5 penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs,” while Section 28 imposes maximum penalties of government officials found guilty of the unlawful act.

De Vera and Dayan face two counts of the same criminal charges, while the rest face one count each. The respondents were charged for their alleged participation in the proliferation of illegal drugs inside NBP.

“Wala akong pinakialaman dito, hindi ako kinonsulta. This is the product of the 5-man prosecutorial panel,” Aguirre said. (I didn’t meddle here in any way, I was not consulted. This is the product of the 5-man prosecutorial panel.)

Aguirre added: “Ito po ay talagang pinag-aralan. Kung pulitika lang ito, bakit hindi dinemanda si Mr Baraan dating DOJ usec, dating kasama-sama? Pero kulang sa ebidensya, kaya dinismiss ang kaso.” (The prosecutors studied this case thoroughly. If this was just a political move, why didn’t we sue Mr. Baraan, former DOJ usec, a companion [of De Lima]? But we lacked evidence that’s why we dismissed it.)

The respondents remain on the lookout bulletin. Once arrest warrants are issued by the court, Aguirre said, the department will also issue hold departure orders against the suspects. –

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Lian Buan

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