Leila de Lima

2 more witnesses recant in De Lima’s last case

Lian Buan

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2 more witnesses recant in De Lima’s last case

DETAINED. Police officers escort former senator Leila de Lima as she attends the hearing on the remaining illegal drug case filed against her at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court on September 11, 2023.

Leila de Lima/Facebook

Before the hearing starts, Rodolfo Magleo goes to De Lima and hands her a letter saying he and another witness will recant

MANILA, Philippines – Two more witnesses recanted on Monday, October 16, their testimony in the conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading charge against former senator Leila De Lima. These latest developments mean it will now be up to the discretion of the last remaining court to decide whether the staunch critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte goes free after seven years in jail, or stays there indefinitely.

The prosecution was supposed to put Rodolfo Magleo, a former cop convicted of kidnapping, on the witness stand Monday, but before the hearing started at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), he went to De Lima to give her a handwritten letter signifying his and Nonilo Arile’s, a police asset, intent to recant.

The prosecution was surprised and decided not to push through with Magleo’s testimony, said De Lima’s lawyers after the hearing Monday. “Hindi rin niya alam anong gagawin niya, medyo kinakabahan, nag-usap-usap kami medyo tense din ‘yung sitwasyon, isa lang naman ang resolution, you have to tell the court because it is your duty to tell the truth, at ang katotohanan ay binigay ito kay Senator De Lima,” said De Lima’s lawyer Dino De Leon.

(She also did not know what to do, she was a bit nervous, we talked and the situation was slightly tense but there’s only one resolution which is to tell the court because it is your duty to tell the truth and the truth is this was given to Senator De Lima).

“We both planned to recant as early as 2018 but due to impossibility of communication, we were not able to do so. We are bothered by our consciences. We do not want you to be a victim of mistrial, we will reveal in due time. We are assuring you all that the last case will be dismissed,” said the one-page letter signed by both Magleo and Arile.

The letter was immediately submitted to the court. How it impacts on De Lima’s last remaining case will be up to the discretion of the judge. De Lima was acquitted of the first two charges in 2021 and 2023.

Magleo and Arile are the 4th and 5th witnesses to recant in the De Lima cases, the first three were Kerwin Espinosa, former corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, and co-accused former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.

Unlike the other witnesses who recanted, the letter from Magleo and Arile did not detail why they testified against De Lima before. The letter only requested De Lima to send representatives to the Sablayan Prison in Occidental Mindoro “ASAP for us to talk on all the legal aspects of the recantation.”

Espinosa said police forced him to implicate De Lima. Ragos said it was former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who forced him to invent a story, while Dayan said it was the late former Oriental Mindoro congressman Reynaldo “Rey” Umali who forced him.

“Please act ASAP, we assure you of our cooperation and commitment,” said the letter, which De Lima’s lawyers said they knew nothing of until Magleo gave it to the former senator himself Monday afternoon.

Arile and Magleo were original Department of Justice (DOJ) witnesses when De Lima was first charged in 2017. Arile, also a former cop convicted of kidnapping and murder, is a police asset who said he has had personal conversations with the late Jaybee Sebastian, a convict who supposedly told him he delivered drug money to De Lima. Magleo, on the other hand, claimed he had personal conversations with Dayan who supposedly imposed monthly quota of drug bribe for him and the former senator.

Sebastian, the supposed ring leader, died inside the New Bilibid Prison in 2020 in a series of mysterious deaths of drug convicts at the height of the pandemic.

By legal procedure, the prosecution can still dispute the weight and value of the recantation, and offer other witnesses.

“Tama naman, may mga iba pang testigo pero ang sinasabi natin eto ‘yung nakikita nating pattern sa mga testigong nai-prisinta laban kay Senator De Lima mula pa noong 2016 – sila ay mga testigo na tinakot, pinilit,” said De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon.

(It’s true that there are other witnesses but what we’re saying is that this is the pattern we’re seeing, witnesses against Senator De Lima since 2016 are saying they were intimidated, coerced.)

De Lima was jailed in 2017 as a result of a sensational congressional inquiry conducted by allies of Duterte into her alleged role in the drug trading inside the national penitentiary. Before the charges, De Lima instigated the Senate investigations into Duterte’s drug war which killed 27,000 Filipinos according to estimates of human rights groups. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

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