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MANILA, Philippines – The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 granted bail in open court on Monday, November 13, to former senator Leila de Lima, setting in motion her freedom after almost seven years in detention.
Criminal Case No. 17-167 is her last case which is why the bail grant will set her free. She was granted bail in the amount of P300,000, as were her co-accused, former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Bucayu, former aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez, and alleged bagman Jose Adrian Dera.
In assessing “the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution, the Court is of the firm view and holds that accused De Lima, Bucayu, Dayan, Sanchez and Dera should be allowed to post bail as the prosecution was not able to discharge its burden of establishing that the guilt of the said accused is strong,” the decision read.
The prosecution is done with their presentation for this case, and the defense team will most likely file a demurrer, meaning they will ask the court to dismiss the charge outright without having to present evidence of their own. De Lima was acquitted in the first two charges in 2021 and 2022. (READ: TIMELINE: De Lima in detention)
The former senator will have to post bail before the court first, and her lawyers are at the moment rushing to make the court’s cutoff time.
De Lima’s legal team was prepared for this, raising the funds to make sure they could post bail on the same day. They were also ready to ask the court to reduce the amount, but posting bail and making sure De Lima does not spend one more night in Camp Crame was the priority, Rappler was told.
After the hearing, the legal team will be processing De Lima’s bail bond. She needs to return to the custodial center in Camp Crame in Quezon City for clearance, and then she can go home. Her team was still finalizing where she would rest for the day, at least as of Friday, November 10, when Rappler last spoke to her lawyers.
Monday’s court hearing was a combination of managing hopes, especially De Lima’s, but preparing for whatever outcome just the same.
Monday’s hearing was set by Judge Gener Gito specifically to hear the motion to quash filed by De Lima’s co-accused, former corrections chief Franklin Bucayu. But De Lima’s team had earlier filed a motion for reconsideration on the denial of her bail, and according to the court’s calendar, the lawyers had counted their motion as being ripe for resolution. Judge Gito was also a new judge, as it was Judge Romeo Buenaventura who denied De Lima’s petition for bail.
These movements brought on some hope for the De Lima camp that Monday would be more significant than just a routine hearing. But De Lima, Rappler was told, was trying not to get too excited as the denial of her bail in June left her disappointed.
De Lima’s legal team had been counting the days to her freedom as early as 2021, confident that not only was the prosecution’s case being weakened with every witness recantation, but that the exit of Rodrigo Duterte as president would also lift political pressure.
Since February 2017 when she was charged and arrested, a total of six judges have inhibited in De Lima’s case, either voluntarily or on the motion of parties, and two availed of early retirement.
Judge Gito is a returning judge to De Lima’s cases, having handled some before he was relieved of the designation in 2019. When Gito handled the cases, De Lima scored minor wins, like a furlough to visit her ailing mother, and her lawyers not being held in contempt of court.
On Friday, November 10, defense lawyer Teddy Rigoroso visited De Lima to talk about security arrangements should she be set free Monday. This was mainly to convince the former senator to forego, or at least delay, some plans that could put her at risk.
“Sabi ko, Manay, hindi naman tayo naghirap ng pitong taon, lalo na ikaw, para lang maging tanga, para lang paglabas natin ay mababaril tayo,” Rigoroso told Rappler, recalling his November 10 conversation with De Lima.
(I told her, friend, we did not suffer for seven years, especially you, just to be careless now, just for you to get shot once you get out.)
De Lima’s long road to freedom
One of the most vocal critics of Duterte and his bloody drug war, De Lima was accused of allegedly enabling the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary supposedly to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign, which turned out to be successful.
While under detention, several witnesses had recanted their allegations against De Lima. The biggest recantation was that of former acting Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, who revealed in 2022 that he was forced to lie by former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
The most number of recantations was made by Rodolfo Magleo, a former cop convicted of kidnapping, and police asset Nonilo Arile. The two took back their testimonies just last October in the charge of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading against De Lima.
Aside from legal charges, De Lima went through a nasty public trial, with Duterte’s allies in the lower house televising their inquiry into her intimate relationships.
The congressional probe, led mostly by male lawmakers, delved into the relationship of the former lawmaker with her ex-aide, Ronnie Dayan.
In October 2022, De Lima almost died in the hands of a fellow detainee, who held her hostage inside the supposedly secure custodial center run by the national police. After the incident, De Lima said she thought she would not come out alive. – with reports from Jairo Bolledo/Rappler.com