Leila de Lima

‘Sorry, we faced unimaginable threats’: 7 more witnesses recant in De Lima case

Lian Buan

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‘Sorry, we faced unimaginable threats’: 7 more witnesses recant in De Lima case

FREED. Former senator Leila de Lima holds a press briefing after her release from detention at the PNP Custodial Center, in Quezon City on November 13, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

The convicts ask the court to transfer them to another facility 'for our safety'

MANILA, Philippines – Seven more convicts, who served as witnesses in the drug charges against former senator Leila De Lima, have recanted their testimonies, telling the judge that they “faced unimaginable threats on their lives” at that time.

De Lima filed a manifestation before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 on Tuesday, November 21, telling Judge Gener Gito that she has received a letter from the convict-witnesses expressing their intent to recant. “Consistent with the ethical duties as a lawyer to uphold the Constitution, the letter is furnished to the Honorable Court,” said the manifestation.

The letter, addressed to Judge Gito, was signed November 17 by German Agojo, Tomas Doñina, Jaime Patcho, Wu Tuan Yuan, Engelbert Durano, Jerry Pepino and Hans Anton Tan.

In the letter, the convicts said their “participation as witnesses in the drug cases against former DOJ [Department of Justice] secretary De Lima was initiated by undue compulsion and influences, and thus, any judicial statement made by us is void of lack of consent.”

Unlike the star witness Rafael Ragos who had earlier recanted, these convicts did not name the people whom they allege forced them to testify against De Lima. Ragos, for his part, pointed to former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Aguirre’s former undersecretary Raymund Mecate,  National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Directors Rachel Angeles and Vicente De Guzman and Prosecutor Laurence Joel Taliping as among those who pressured him to testify.

In the latest letter, the convicts said: “Prior to our forced participation as witnesses against Senator De Lima, we faced unimaginable threats to our lives as the only choice we had was to testify against the good senator.”

De Lima was in jail for almost seven years before being granted bail by Judge Gito on November 13. She had already been acquitted in two of three charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

The convicts said the stabbing incident in 2016 inside the New Bilibid Prison was proof of the threats they were under.

“We no longer desire to live our lives with the knowledge that we allowed ourselves to become pawns or instruments of injustice….It will be our way of expressing our sincerest apologies to Senator De Lima and her family,” the letter said.

De Lima had repeatedly said she had forgiven the witnesses against her, and the only people she cannot forgive are those she calls the masterminds of her jailing, top of the list is former president Rodrigo Duterte.


The convicts requested the court to order their transfer from the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro “for our safety and security.” They said that by writing the letter, “we are risking our lives and the safety and security of our families.”

The last case under Judge Gito, where De Lima is out on bail, is done with the prosecution’s presentation of evidence. The De Lima team will file a demurrer to evidence, or a pleading you file with the court to ask for an outright dismissal without having to present your own evidence.

In the bail grant, Judge Gito doubted the truthfulness of some of the testimonies and said that even if they were true, they were not enough to prove conspiracy. – 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.