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‘Zero evidence’: De Lima urges court to dismiss drug case, citing Ragos affidavit

Senator Leila DeLima attends her hearing at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Friday, June 22, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

DOJ says to leave De Lima cases up to the courts

MANILA — Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Friday urged a Muntinlupa court once more to junk one of 2 pending drug cases against her, citing the affidavit of former Bureau of Corrections official Rafael Ragos retracting his claims against her.

Ragos last week took back his allegations that he personally delivered a total of P10 million to De Lima, through her then-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, in two tranches in November and December 2012, supposedly as part of her share in the illegal drug trade.

“With the execution of this 30 April 2022 Affidavit by Rafael Z. Ragos admitting that his testimony against Accused De Lima were all false, and categorically stating that there was never any delivery of money to the Accused, there stands zero evidence against Accused De Lima, and much less any ‘strong’ one,” De Lima said in a 29-page manifestation and motion, formally submitting a copy of Ragos’ affidavit.

She asked the court to either dismiss the case outright and order her immediate release or to allow her to post bail.

De Lima had previously filed a demurrer to evidence — essentially a motion to dismiss due to insufficiency of evidence — and a motion to post bail in the case involving Dayan.

But a Muntinlupa court denied both pleas last year, citing the testimonies of Ragos and his former aide, Jovencio Ablen, Jr., who claimed they delivered the drug payoffs to De Lima at her house in Parañaque City.

De Lima, in her manifestation and motion Friday, said Ragos was, in fact, “the one and only witness for the Prosecution who claimed to have any personal knowledge of the alleged deliveries of money.”

“Ablen openly admitted that his account as to the alleged contents of the packages, the alleged source thereof, the alleged intended recipient/s thereof, and the alleged purpose therefor were all merely based on what Ragos had told him. He repeatedly admitted that he had no personal knowledge of such facts. Thus, he could neither attest to the truth or falsity of the same,” De Lima argued.

The Justice department had downplayed the impact of Ragos’ affidavit, saying the courts view retractions with disfavor. It also cast doubt on Ragos’ intentions in retracting just a few days before the elections.

De Lima is seeking reelection to the Senate.

But beyond simply retracting his allegations, De Lima said Ragos’ affidavit “actually explains the many holes, direct contradictions, and other badges of falsehoods in his narrative over the years.”

Among these loopholes:

  • Ragos stopped short of claiming De Lima herself received the package allegedly containing drug money
  • Ragos initially claimed that the first delivery of money in November 2012 was a “campaign contribution” even if De Lima was not running for senator at that time
  • Ragos submitted a report to De Lima detailing the alleged illegal drug transaction between convict Peter Co, Ablen and another agent
  • Ragos made several additional allegations, even changing details of his claims — from allegedly not knowing where the money left in his quarters came from to delivering money to De Lima supposedly upon orders of an inmate
  • Ragos’ statements were contradicted by prosecution witness Reynaldo Esmeralda, former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director

“[I]t is apparent that he has been progressively tailor-fitting his testimony in order to obtain the most beneficial terms in his favor, ultimately resulting in: (1) his discharge as a co-accused; and (b) his reinstatement to the NBI after being detailed to the Public Attorney’s Office,” De Lima said of Ragos.

“All in all, the 30 April 2022 Affidavit fully explains why his narrations thus far have been far from being categorical, spontaneous, straightforward and consistent, especially given the testimonial skills one could expect from no less than a then Deputy Director for Intelligence of the National Bureau of Investigation, who has had decades of experience in gathering and organizing facts towards the build-up of criminal cases,” she added.

Without Ragos’ testimony, De Lima said the prosecution has no other pieces of evidence to save the drug case against her since “not an iota of physical evidence” was presented in court — whether of the illegal drugs supposedly traded or of the money that allegedly served as drug payoffs.

Out of 37 listed witnesses, the prosecution presented only 29, 19 of whom have no personal knowledge about her alleged involvement, the senator said.

DOJ RESPONSE TO DE LIMA LETTER

De Lima, on Friday, also wrote Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to ask his department to reinvestigate the drug allegations in light of the retractions of Ragos and self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.

“If upon review, it is determined that Ragos’s statements are true, then all the cases against me should be immediately withdrawn by the DOJ in order to prevent a further miscarriage of justice where, even after these revelations indicating prosecutorial misconduct amounting to the criminal offense of subornation of perjury, the DOJ will still continue prosecuting said cases,” she said.

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But Guevarra said on Saturday he will leave the matter to the courts handling De Lima’s drug cases.

“[H]er cases are already on the trial stage. The only way to find out if witnesses are lying is to present them in court for intensive examination and cross-examination,” he said.

“Ultimately, it is the judge who will weigh the truthfulness and probative value of the testimony of witnesses, and will render judgment based on the totality of evidence presented by both sides at the end of trial,” he added.

Guevarra also pointed out that the delay in the resolution of De Lima’s cases is due to several factors such as the “calendar and caseload of the court, the number of accused persons, the number and availability of witnesses, various motions filed by both defense and prosecution panels, petitions for judicial review of trial court orders, pandemic lockdowns, inhibition or recusal of presiding judges, and many others.”

“Through bail is the only way that Senator De Lima could be temporarily free during the pendency of the trial. She tried, but the court denied,” he explained.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News inside the PNP Custodial Center on Wednesday, De Lima expressed dissatisfaction with Guevarra’s handling of her cases.

“I expect him to do more. Dig deeper. The DOJ’s mandate is profound. Justice has two faces — for victims and for those falsely accused. As much part of the mandate of the DOJ to ensure guilty conviction and to spare the innocent from false and malicious prosecution. I am falsely accused,” she said.

“Shouldn’t Sec Meynard, Sec. Guevarra be interested in finding out the truth? For God’s sake, I am a former SOJ. Another SOJ is accused of being behind this, it’s not just him. It’s more than that. He is acting under order of his principal,” she added, confirming she was referring to Duterte.

Duterte had threatened De Lima he will “destroy” her publicly, before De Lima was arrested, in the midst of a word war over the Senate probe on the president’s drug war which the senator launched shortly after taking office in 2016.

Asked about Guevarra, with whom she served under the administration of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, De Lima described as “quiet.”

“We were not close. We just say hi to each other, that’s all. I see him as a very decent man, intelligent and competent. But I want to see more spine,” she said.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: RELEASE DE LIMA, PROBE COERCION

In a new statement Saturday, Amnesty International called on the Philippine government to drop all the charges against De Lima and to probe all the allegations of coercion by Ragos and Espinosa.

“Amnesty International believes that the retraction of testimony by two key witnesses against the Senator, and the disturbing allegations of coercion of witnesses is further damning evidence of the government’s role in her arbitrary detention,” it said.

“The allegations of Espinosa and Ragos that they were coerced by senior officials to commit perjury should be promptly investigated in a thorough, independent and impartial manner. Given that the Department of Justice is directly implicated in the coercion of witnesses, an independent body must conduct the investigation,” it added.

The group also expressed concern over the safety of Ragos and Espinosa given the “notoriously weak” witness protection program in the Philippines.

De Lima was arrested in February 2017 over 3 drug charges hurled against her. One of the 3 drug charges has been dismissed last year.

The senator maintained the cases are nothing but political persecution. Kerwin Espinosa recants allegations vs De Lima: counsel Kerwin Espinosa recanted all of his allegations against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, his lawyer Raymund Palad told ABS-CBN News Thursday.

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