Leila de Lima

Remulla: Dropping charges vs De Lima ‘possible if it’s the only recourse’

Lian Buan

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Remulla: Dropping charges vs De Lima ‘possible if it’s the only recourse’

JAILED. Opposition leader Leila De Lima attends her court hearing in Muntinlupa on May 30, 2022, flanked by escorts from her Camp Crame jail. Photo from Office of Leila De Lima

A witness with no legal link to the De Lima case mentions the former senator in his retraction. Her lawyer says it proves their point that the case was built on lies.
Remulla: Dropping charges vs De Lima ‘possible if it’s the only recourse’

MANILA, Philippines – Following the retractions of two star witnesses, incoming justice secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said dropping charges against jailed opposition senator Leila de Lima is possible “if it’s the only recourse.”

“That’s the last recourse, on review, if its the only recourse, it’s possible – anything is possible – but I would let the [prosecutors] do their job,” Remulla said in a Rappler Talk interview.

It’s an expression of openness not seen from the outgoing justice secretary, Menardo Guevarra, who had so far stood firm on their case, saying retractions should be left to the judgment of the court.

While Remulla also noted that the case is a “judicial matter” and that he has “the highest respect” for the prosecutors, he also said, “But we have to keep our eyes open on people who might not be behaving properly.”

Unlike Guevarra who would rather take a hands-off approach on claims that high officials of his department conspired to coerce witnesses against De Lima, Remulla said he would have an internal inquiry.

“There will be a study of everything. I know that it’s not only the Philippines watching – it’s the world watching us. We will do what has to be done,” said Remulla.

Lawmakers from different parts of the world, including European Union lawmakers, ASEAN legislators, and US senators, have called on the Philippine government to dismiss what they called politically motivated cases against De Lima and release her.

So far, the star witness, former corrections chief Rafael Ragos, and co-respondent Ronnie Dayan have retracted their earlier testimonies. Kerwin Espinosa, alleged Visayan drug lord, who had accused De Lima of the same crimes during congressional investigations, had also retracted. All of them said they were threatened and harassed into making the testimonies against the senator, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Let the chips fall where they may, the recantations are there, they are part of jurisprudence. Maybe you are aware of that already – the most said line is that recantations are frowned upon by courts. As I said before, it’s a red flag. It makes you review the way that everything was processed,” Remulla added.

De Lima has been in jail for five years or since February 24, 2017, just seven months after she was elected as senator.

Remulla: Dropping charges vs De Lima ‘possible if it’s the only recourse’
A retraction in the Espinosa case

The De Lima legal team was made aware recently that in 2020, Marcelo Adorco, a government witness in a separate case against Espinosa, had made a retraction that mentioned De Lima.

Adorco is the government’s star witness against Espinosa, the early target of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. The Espinosa household was raided in August 2016, the basis of the eventual court cases. Kerwin went into hiding, while his father, former mayor Rolando Espinosa, surrendered. But the elder Espinosa was killed while in jail in an operation that was among the first to put the national spotlight on irregularities in Duterte’s drug war.

Adorco, who is supposedly the Espinosa network’s runner, was always a weak spot in the cases, forgetting details within a matter of minutes on the witness stand. His inconsistent statements have caused the dropping of charges against Espinosa and another alleged Visayan drug lord, Peter Lim. Lim is still in hiding, while Kerwin Espinosa is in jail.

Adorco was never a witness against De Lima, either in court or in Congress, but the De Lima team discovered that an August 2020 affidavit of Adorco mentioned the former senator.

In that affidavit, Adorco said “Hindi ko po kilala sina Lovely Impal, Peter Co, Peter Lim, at Secretary Leila de Lima. Hindi ko po sila nakita at nakausap kahit minsan.”

(I don’t know Lovely Impal, Peter Co, Peter Lim ,and Secretary Leila De Lima. I have not seen nor talked to them even once.)

What does he have to do with De Lima?

Hindi testigo si Adorco sa kaso ni Senator De Lima. Pero sa tingin namin, sumasalamin ito sa matagal na naming sinasabi na ang mga kaso laban kay Senator De Lima ay pawang gawa-gawa lamang ng mga taong tinakot at ginipit para gumawa ng kasinungalingan at palabasin na si Senator De Lima ay sangkot sa bentahan ng ilegal na droga,” said De Lima’s lawyer Filibon Tacardon.

(Adorco is not a witness in the case of Senator De Lima. But in our view, this reflects what we have long been saying that the cases against Senator De Lima are fabricated by people who were threatened and harassed to make up lies that Senator De Lima was involved in the drug trade.)

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De Lima: ‘Espenido should speak’

De Lima said the next person who should speak is  Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido, former chief of police of Albuera, Leyte, when the Espinosas were raided. In 2020, in a turn of events, Espenido was put on Duterte’s drug list.

“Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido must now also come clean and tell the truth. He knows that I have absolutely no links to self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and /or any involvement in the illegal drug trade,” said De Lima in a dispatch from her jail cell in Camp Crame on Thursday.

De Lima has formally moved for her freedom, either by dropping of charges or by bail, by bringing to the court Ragos’ retraction. Ragos’ testimony was what prompted a judge in Muntinlupa to proceed to trial in one of the remaining two counts for conspiracy to commit drug trade. – 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.