MANILA – A Supreme Court (SC) associate justice on Tuesday grilled Solicitor General Jose Calida over the exclusion of high-profile Bilibid inmates in the drug case filed against Senator Leila de Lima.
In his interpellation of Calida, SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen noted that none of the inmates who “actually traded the drugs” are now part of the case.
The cases against high-profile convicts Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co were dropped as they were made state witnesses.
“You have here a case where all these that are not qualified for the Witness Protection Program (WPP), but in conspiracy with Senator De Lima, are not named in the information. Would you say there is a singling out?” Leonen said.
Calida said, choosing to drop the charges against the Bilibid inmates was a “prosecutorial privilege” since there are no other witnesses in the case.
“This is not singling out Senator De Lima. She chose to deal with these inmates inside the Bilibid so she must reap the consequences,” he said.
Leonen, however, said it is clear in the WPP law that in order to be granted immunity from prosecution, a person must not have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.
Leonen also pointed out that Section 33 of the Dangerous Drugs Act states that, notwithstanding the WPP law, a person who has violated “Sections 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 19, Article II of the law” who will “voluntarily give information about any violation of Sections 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 16, Article II of this Act” can be granted immunity from prosecution.
Leonen noted, neither Section 5 nor 26, for which De Lima is being prosecuted, is included in the exceptions.
According to Leonen, he brought this up since De Lima’s camp is accusing the Department of Justice and other government agencies of politically persecuting her.
“The allegation of the petitioner is that the law enforcers and prosecution have singled out one person. And by singling out one person, it is a badge that it is using the long arm of the law to oppress - persecution rather than prosecution,” Leonen said.
Leonen also asked whether Guerrero should have summoned the inmate-witnesses before ordering De Lima's arrest given the "contradictions" in their testimonies.
"Should the judge have not called witnesses and ask more searching questions?" Leonen told Calida.
"Wasn’t there sufficient contradictions in the affidavits such that the trial court, if she (Guerrero) had actually perused the documents, would be enticed to call the witnesses to determine probable cause?"
The Department of Justice earlier placed under the WPP several high-profile inmates who accused De Lima of receiving drug money.
De Lima’s camp, however, believes the inmates’ testimonies were made either under duress or in exchange for certain perks just to pin down the senator, one of the staunchest critics of the Duterte government.
De Lima is detained on orders of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero. The case handled by Guerrero is with respect to the allegation that De Lima received drug money from the inmates through former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafal Ragos and the senator’s former driver-aide, Ronnie Dayan.