Philippine judiciary

Leila de Lima cleared of all drug charges

Jairo Bolledo

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Leila de Lima cleared of all drug charges

FORMER SENATOR. Leila de Lima sits down with senior multimedia reporter Paterno Esmaquel II for Rappler Talk, on March 22, 2024.

Rob Reyes/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 206, the same court that granted former senator Leila de Lima bail in November 2023, clears her of the third and last charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading

MANILA, Philippines – Leila de Lima, former senator and a Philippine opposition figure, has now been cleared of all the drug charges filed against her during the term of her nemesis, former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 on Monday, June 24, cleared De Lima of the third and last charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. This is the same court that granted her bail in November 2023 and set her free after almost seven years in detention.

Leila de Lima cleared of all drug charges

Branch 206 Presiding Judge Gener Gito granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence. A demurrer to evidence is filed by the defense when they are confident that the prosecution’s presentation of evidence was weak enough that they don’t have to present their own. It is filed after the prosecution’s presentation, and has the effect of a motion for an outright dismissal.

Since the granting of bail in November – when Gito said there was no sufficient proof to show conspiracy – and with the confidence from the acquittals of the first two drug charges, De Lima and her lawyers had always meant to file a demurrer instead of taking the last case to a full trial.

In her last case, the former lawmaker was accused of being complicit in the “widespread drug trade” inside the New Bilibid Prison’s maximum security compound, in her capacity as former justice secretary who had supervisory powers over the national penitentiary. Bilibid convicts were also allegedly able to bribe her with P70 million, which she was also accused of using to run and win as senator in 2016.

On Monday, De Lima was also cleared in her two disobedience cases by Quezon City RTC Branch 76. The RTC granted her petition for certiorari – used to review another court’s decision – against the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court, which earlier junked the former senator’s motion to dismiss the disobedience cases.

This means De Lima has been cleared in all of her cases.

Leila de Lima cleared of all drug charges

The disobedience cases stemmed from the allegation that De Lima induced her co-accused, her former bodyguard-driver Ronnie Dayan, to ignore the subpoena issued by Congress when it launched an inquiry into the drug allegations in 2016. The congressional hearings resulted in the criminal cases.

The disobedience cases were filed by former Oriental Mindoro 2nd District representative Reynaldo Umali, who died in 2021 after a bout with liver cancer.

Vindicated too

Aside from De Lima, the court also acquitted her fellow accused.

“WHEREFORE, for failure of the Prosecution to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the respective Demurrer to Evidence filed by the accused are GRANTED,” the court’s ruling read. “Thus, Leila M. De Lima, Franklin Jesus B. Bucayu, Ronnie Palisoc Dayan, Joenel Tan Sanchez, and Jose Adrian Tiamson Dera are ACQUITTED of the charge against them.”

All the accused faced charges for allegedly conspiring and committing illegal drug trade by using Bilibid persons deprived of liberty to sell illegal drug trade by means of using mobile phones and electronic devices. 

According to the ruling, to prove the accused individual’s guilt, the prosecution must establish that:

  • Conspiracy exists among all the accused to commit illegal drug trading
  • Illegal drug trading was, in fact, committed in a manner alleged in the amended information (case) 

However, after “meticulously” analyzing the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, the court said: “The testimonies of the nine (9) bail-hearing witnesses which formed part of the Prosecution’s evidence-in chief will not prove conspiracy among the accused to commit illegal drug trading.” 

“Their testimonies are marred with incredulities and inconsistencies which affect not only their credibility but also the credulity of their own testimonial stories,” it added.

Long road to justice

De Lima secured her first drug acquittal in 2021, when Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 205 granted her demurrer, clearing her from Criminal Case No. 17-166, in which she was linked to alleged drug lord Peter Co.

In May 2023, Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 204 acquitted her in Criminal Case No. 17-165. The court said the retraction of the government’s star witness, former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, created “reasonable doubt” about the accusations against De Lima.

De Lima’s last drug case suffered delays. Even though the Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator already instructed the court to finish the trial of the case by the first quarter of 2024, the trial was held back by successive inhibitions of judges.

Before the case was given to Presiding Judge Gito, at least two judges inhibited: Branch 204 Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara, who inhibited due to the prosecution’s motion, and Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura, who was asked by De Lima’s co-accused to inhibit after citing conflict of interest.

After her freedom in November 2023, De Lima was made the spokesperson of the once-ruling Liberal Party.

When she was released, De Lima said among her priorities was to help the victims of Duterte’s drug war get justice and assist in the International Criminal Court‘s ongoing investigation into the killings under Duterte. As of February 2024, De Lima said she had no plans of running in the midterm elections in 2025, but said she will continue her fight against injustice.

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While De Lima was in detention, several witnesses recanted their allegations against her. The biggest recantation was that of Ragos, who revealed that former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II forced him to lie. As of 2023, there were at least 13 witnesses who had retracted their statements against De Lima.

Aside from legal charges, De Lima went through a nasty public trial, with Duterte’s allies in the House televising their inquiry into her intimate relationship. The congressional probe, led mostly by male lawmakers, delved into the relationship of the former lawmaker with her ex-aide, Dayan.

In October 2022, De Lima almost died at the hands of a fellow detainee, who held her hostage inside the supposedly secure custodial center of the Philippine National Police. After the incident, De Lima said she thought she would not come out alive. –


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  1. RB

    Phil needs more brave and courageous woman in politics like her and less divisive self serving individuals.

  2. ET

    Congratulations, former Senator Leila de Lima.

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.