MANILA (UPDATE) — Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa recanted all of his allegations against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, his counsel said Thursday.
The retraction as well as an expression of apology are stated in Espinosa's counter-affidavit subscribed before the Department of Justice Thursday afternoon, lawyer Raymund Palad told ABS-CBN News.
"Basically, binabawi niya or nire-recant niya whatever statements na sinabi niya kay Senator De Lima which implicated (the) senator sa illegal drug trade," said Palad.
Espinosa said in his counter-affidavit that his claims against De Lima, who has been detained since February 2017 over illegal drugs charges but which she dismissed as political persecution, are not true.
He had claimed that he gave a total of P8 million in drug payoffs to De Lima when the latter was Justice Secretary, through her former driver, Ronnie Dayan.
At a Senate hearing in 2016, Espinosa alleged that Dayan called him in August 2015 to solicit money for the campaign kitty of De Lima in exchange for protecting his drug dealings.
Espinosa was among the witnesses the government presented against De Lima, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, during the Senate hearings in November and December 2016.
"[A]ny and all of his statements given during the Senate hearings, or in the form of sworn written affidavits, against Senator Leila De Lima are not true. He has no dealings with Sen. De Lima and has not given her any money at any given time," Espinosa's counter-affidavit read.
"Any statement he made against the Senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the illegal drug trade," it added.
"For this, undersigned apologizes to Senator De Lima."
According to Palad, this is the first time Espinosa recanted his statement.
Espinosa said in the counter-affidavit that he was "coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened by the police."
"He has no other option but to invent stories for fear of his life and of his family since his father, then Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. was killed on November 5, 2016 or just 18 days prior to the Senate hearing," the document read.
"Respondent was told to cooperate or else he and some members of his family will suffer the same fate as his father."
Espinosa, Sr. was shot dead inside a jail cell in Albuera, Leyte, supposedly during service of a search warrant. He had earlier been detained for illegal drug possession.
He was among the narco-politicians tagged by Duterte.
Espinosa submitted the counter-affidavit in response to a drug complaint filed against him last year based on his confessions before the Senate hearings in 2016.
He is no longer under the witness protection program of the DOJ since early this year, after an alleged foiled attempt to escape from NBI custody.
He has since been transferred to Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Bicutan.
Espinosa was arrested in Abu Dhabi in October 2016 and made various claims against De Lima including giving the senator money in Baguio City and giving P8 million through the senator's then-bodyguard Dayan, but his lawyer said he was never used as a witness in the court cases against De Lima.
One of the 3 drug cases against De Lima had been junked by a Muntinlupa court.
The Supreme Court in 2017 voted to keep De Lima in jail. She is being detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Sought for comment about Espinosa's recantation, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is verifying the matter.
"I have no personal knowledge. The office of the Prosecutor General is currently verifying. I just observed that the copy posted does not show that it was subscribed before a prosecutor or a notary public," he told the media in a message exchange.
But Palad told ABS-CBN News that he was present when Espinosa signed the counter-affidavit in Bicutan on Wednesday, and that he attended the Zoom hearing with the DOJ at 1 p.m. Thursday during which his client affirmed the contents of the document under oath.
Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento confirmed they never used Espinosa as a witness against De Lima in the drug cases.
"Maglalabas din kami ng briefer about it. Di naman namin ginamit as witness si Kerwin," he said in a text message.
Espinosa is facing about 6 to 7 drug-related and money laundering charges.
In a Facebook post, the camp of De Lima, who is seeking reelection in the upcoming May 9 polls, thanked her supporters, saying truth and justice will always prevail.
Her ally, vice-presidential candidate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, called for her immediate release.
“Ngayong binawi na ni Kerwin Espinosa ang lahat ng mga paratang laban kay Senator Leila De Lima, dapat palayain na si Senator Leila -- now na!" he said in a statement.
"Napakalaking sampal sa katarungan ang mahigit limang taong pagkakapiit ni Senator Leila," he added.
De Lima is part of the Halalan 2022 ticket of presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo and Pangilinan.
Atty. Chel Diokno, another senatorial candidate under the same slate, echoed Pangilinan's call.
"Patunay lang ito na walang laman at gawa-gawa lang ang kaso laban kay Sen. Leila. Malinaw rin na ang mga kasong isinampa ay kapritso lang at paghihiganti," he said.
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