De Lima appeals court denial of bail bid, dismissal of 2nd drug case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 23 2021 06:26 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2021 08:06 PM

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima arrives in full protective gear flanked by police guards at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 for a hearing on one of her drug cases on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. Photo from the Office of Sen. Leila de Lima

MANILA (UPDATE) — Detained Sen. Leila de Lima has asked a Muntinlupa court to reconsider its earlier ruling denying her bid to post bail and junk a second drug case against her, calling the ruling “clearly lopsided and logically challenged.”

This, after she scored legal victory in one of the three drug cases against her, with the same court granting her demurrer to evidence — essentially a motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficiency of evidence — in the case involving self-proclaimed police informant Jad Dera.

In her motion for reconsideration filed Monday, De Lima accused Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Judge Leizel Aquiatan of “cherry picking” by allegedly quoting only portions of the records that supported the prosecution’s narrative while barely referring to her own motions. 

Aquiatan, in 2 separate rulings last week, junked De Lima’s demurrer to evidence and her plea to post bail in the case involving her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan even as she acquitted the senator in the drug case involving Dera.

In her latest motion, De Lima pointed out that the judge devoted 20 pages of the 35-page ruling “summarizing the Prosecution’s narrative without ever addressing or citing the information elicited during the witness’ testimonies that contradicted such narrative” while allotting only half a page to her side despite a 140-page motion for bail and 83-page demurrer she earlier filed.

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The senator claimed her motion for bail was not even referred to at all.

“This conspicuous absence, in addition to the fact that its very title was wrongly cited as a “Petition for Bail” in the third line of the Omnibus Order, gives rise to doubts that it was even seen before, much less considered at all, in the drafting of the Omnibus Order,” she said.

“Thus, unsurprisingly, the Omnibus Order created an unfair impression that the witnesses all testified to a seamless and wholly credible narration of Accused De Lima’s guilt when, in fact, the Prosecution’s own witnesses undermined the Prosecution’s own case,” she added.

De Lima had previously cited in detail how prosecution witnesses allegedly contradicted themselves while on the witness stand.

Two key witnesses — former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and his aide, NBI intelligence agent Jovencio Ablen — claimed they personally delivered drug money to De Lima’s house and saw Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former bodyguard, hand the money to the senator.

The court cited this as among the bases for denying De Lima’s demurrer and motion for bail.

But De Lima called the allegation “preposterous,” a “complete falsehood” and a “pure concoction.”

“[I]n the original affidavit of Ragos, the latter never mentioned the delivery of money to Accused De Lima. To recall, this allegation only cropped up after Ragos was detained and prior to the amendment of the Original Information, which resulted in his removal as an accused in this case,” she said in her motion.

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De Lima also questioned Ragos’ credibility, noting several changes to his statements throughout the course of the trial. 

Ragos first testified that he allegedly received a call from an unnamed caller to deliver a package to De Lima’s house without confirming the contents — a claim De Lima rejected as “incredible.”

He would later claim the call was from an inmate.

“Why would he, NBI Deputy Director and BuCor OIC Ragos, do the bidding of an inmate, without even attempting to get to the bottom of things before abandoning his post in the BuCor on those two occasions of alleged deliveries in order to run errands for said inmate?” De Lima asked.

“[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. In short, his testimony is as credible as that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who thereafter framed the shepherd for the decimation of the herd,” she said.

The alleged transaction took place in 2012 and the money was supposedly intended to fund De Lima’s senatorial campaign. De Lima, at the time, was justice secretary.

She, however, did not run in the 2013 senatorial elections. De Lima won her Senate seat in 2016. 

De Lima challenged the court’s ruling relying on Ablen’s testimony that she had accepted the money from Dayan when he only allegedly said Dayan “tried to hand over the black bag” to De Lima from his vantage point inside a parked vehicle.

Ablen’s statements as to the contents of the bag, the source of the money allegedly delivered, and the purpose are hearsay, she said, Ablen having admitted relying only on what Ragos told him.

During his testimony, Ablen supposedly admitted he could only speculate that the money came from “illegal sources” and not the “illegal drug trade” and that it was based on the terms “kota” and “taras” which were allegedly used in Ragos’ other dealings which had nothing to do with drugs.

De Lima pointed out that Ablen’s testimony only proved Ragos solicited and received money from different sources — from the New Bilibid Prison caterer, from inmates for “special requests,” “ang paw” for additional visitors, and “tara” from inmates — all of which supposedly did not come from illegal drug trading.

The senator also said there were “egregious omissions” of relevant evidence in Aquiatan’s ruling such as the testimony of former Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, supposedly clearing her of any involvement in the illegal drug trade.

De Lima cited Magalong’s testimony calling Ragos “dirty.”

She reiterated her position that other witnesses against her such as convicts Nonilo Arile, Hans Anton Tan, Peter Co and Vicente Sy had no personal knowledge or participation in the alleged conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, while she called CIDG intelligence agent Jerry Valeroso’s statements hearsay and irrelevant because he was not assigned to the NBP at the time the alleged transactions supposedly took place.

According to the motion, Co in fact told the court that the alleged deliveries of money were not intended for De Lima but for Ragos and other BuCor officials and that Co expressed continued fears for his life even while detained at the Philippine Marines Detention Center after he was injured in a stabbing incident in Bilbid before he executed affidavits and appeared during a congressional probe.

De Lima called out the court’s “unwarranted inference” when it did not believe Co’s testimony denying involvement in drugs due to “fear” it might affect his drug cases and concluded he was involved in illegal drug trading to support the ruling that the money allegedly delivered to De Lima came from illegal drugs.

Aside from Co, the court applied the concept of “independently relevant statement” as an exception to hearsay in justifying considering statements of convicts about what they heard about the existence of illegal drug trading.

“In one breath, the Court correctly pointed out that ‘the statements made by the prosecution witnesses pertaining to what Tony Co and Jaybee Sebastian told about the campaign contributions and that of the proceeds coming from illegal drugs are considered independently relevant statements, and shall be treated by this Court as such to establish the fact that such statements, whether true or not, were actually made,’” she said.

“Yet, in the very next breath, it somehow seemed to confusingly suggest that the same may still be considered as “part of the circumstantial evidence necessary to convict the accused,” she added.
 
The senator also challenged the following findings of the court as factual and legal errors:

  • Concluding that De Lima knew about the illegal drug trade because she did not investigate source of the money
  • Attributing benefits received by inmates to De Lima
  • Expanding the concept of “implied conspiracy” to include giving of benefits to inmates as proof of conspiracy

“[I]t is strongly urged to bring justice to everyone involved, including to the Honorable Court itself, by correcting such a clearly lopsided and logically challenged ruling, which is riddled with various violations of the safeguards set forth in both the Constitution and the Rules of Evidence,” she said in her motion. 

“Such safeguards were designed to protect an innocent person from being wrongfully convicted on the basis of incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial evidence and incredible evidence. To cast aside such protections is to effectively punish the Accused for non-existent overt acts or acts committed by other persons, and to put in doubt the independence of the judiciary and its commitment to deliver justice without fear or favor,” she added.

De Lima appeared on Tuesday afternoon in another court — the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 — for her 3rd drug case where murder convict Joel Capones claimed he once saw De Lima accept money from the late drug convict Jaybee Sebastian inside Bilibid. He was subjected to cross-examination. 

De Lima has denied receiving any drug money.

The senator has written the Parole and Probation Administration to oppose Capones’ application for parole or executive clemency.

She also wrote Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra asking why Capones has not been charged yet despite his admission under oath that he committed illegal drug trading inside Bilibid in 2014.

In a statement, Guevarra said he has already read De Lima's letter. 

"[I will] take the matter that she brought to my attention under advisement," said Guevarra. 

De Lima, a staunch administration critic, has been detained for 4 years and has called cases against her political persecution.