Another witness retracts drug accusations vs De Lima

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 02 2022 08:39 AM | Updated as of May 02 2022 01:16 PM

Sen. Leila De Lima is escorted by police as she emerges from her hearing at the Muntinlupa Trial court, Nov. 16, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Sen. Leila De Lima is escorted by police as she emerges from her hearing at the Muntinlupa Trial court, Nov. 16, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — A former National Bureau of Investigation official and a key witness against detained Sen. Leila de Lima has retracted his allegations against the senator and has accused former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of coercing him.

Rafael Ragos, former deputy director for intelligence of the NBI and officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Corrections, executed an affidavit on Saturday, belying his previous claims that he personally delivered P5 million to Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s then-bodyguard, at her residence in Parañaque City in November and December 2012.

De Lima was Justice secretary at that time and the money was supposedly for the 2013 elections. She did not, however, run for senator in 2013.

“I now hereby declare and make known to the whole world that there is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigatory proceedings, including the Senate and the DOJ, on the delivery of monies to Sec. Leila De Lima or Ronnie Dayan in whatever amount,” he said.

Based on his earlier affidavits and testimonies, Ragos claimed the money he supposedly delivered to De Lima allegedly came from an unknown caller whom he would subsequently name as convicted drug lord Peter Co. 

Another Bilibid inmate, Hans Tan, supposedly told him it was De Lima’s share in the drug trade.

But in his affidavit Saturday, Ragos said none of these happened.

“Hans Tan never called to order me to deliver any money to Ronnie Dayan and Sec. De Lima that came from Peter Co as their share in the illegal drug trade. Even if he did that, I will never follow the orders of a mere Bilibid inmate knowing it to be illegal,” he said.

“There was never any money delivered to my quarters. Even if there was, I would have immediately conducted an investigation and filed a case against the responsible individuals, instead of following the instructions of an unknown caller or Hans Tan to deliver a package like an ordinary messenger,” he explained.

According to Ragos, De Lima "is incapable of doing anything illegal".

"As far as I know and based on my professional relationship with Secretary de Lima, she is incapable of doing anything illegal, much less engage in the illegal drug trade or accept money from Bilibid inmates," his affidavit read.

RAGOS: AGUIRRE ‘COERCED ME’

Instead, Ragos pointed his fingers at Aguirre who supposedly forced him to testify against De Lima during a meeting he was ordered to attend at a hotel-casino in Parañaque in September 2016, a week before the House inquiry on the alleged illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.

“During said meeting, then Sec. Aguirre interrogated and coerced me to admit something that did not happen. He escorted me to another room where Ablen was, and they showed me a statement. I asked them: ‘Ano ‘yan?’ Ablen responded: ‘Ginawa namin ni Esmeralda 'yan, may kopya sya n’yan,’” he said, referring to his former aide, Jovencio Ablen, Jr. 

“When I asked Sec. Aguirre what they want me to do, he said: ‘Mag-execute ka ng affidavit, mag-corroborate ka sa statement ni Ablen, kung hindi, alam mo naman mangyayari’,” Ragos recalled Aguirre as saying.

He claimed Public Attorney's Office lawyer Rigel Salvador then drafted the affidavit implicating De Lima.

Ragos also claimed that Aguirre even asked him to execute subsequent affidavits because he needed to point to Peter Co as the unknown caller. 

“Kailangan mo ng bagong statement, ilagay mo si Peter Co, kasi walang maniniwala na hindi mo alam sino ang nagbigay nyan,” Aguirre supposedly told Ragos.

Ragos said he was “forced” to execute the affidavit and testify before the House of Representatives and in court “due to threats of being detained myself for the crime of engaging in the illegal drug trade that I did not commit.”

Ragos was initially included as among the accused in 1 of the 3 drug cases against De Lima.

“In order to be dropped from the Information in Criminal Case No. 17-165 as a co-accused of Sec. De Lima and Ronnie Dayan, I was forced to cooperate with Sec. Aguirre and the DOJ public prosecutors by agreeing to deliver all these false testimonies and sign false affidavits against Sec. De Lima and Ronnie Dayan. I was thus made a witness against Sec. De Lima and Ronnie Dayan and set free,” he said.

OTHER OFFICIALS IMPLICATED

But it wasn’t just Aguirre whom Ragos implicated.

He accused his former aide Ablen of being involved in the illegal drug trade, as shown by a supposed memorandum he submitted to then Justice Secretary De Lima.

Ablen, in turn, had earlier accused Ragos of running illegal activities as OIC of BuCor.

Ragos also implicated a prosecutor handling De Lima’s cases.

“As the trial went by, Prosecutor Laurence Joel Taliping advised me: ‘Magtestigo ka nang mabuti, minomonitor ka ng Malacañang,’” he said.

“When I asked the DOJ to reimburse my expenses in testifying since I was detained with no salary for 7 months, Prosecutor Taliping told me: ‘Wala ba ako d’yan, kahit two months lang,’” he added.

Ragos also named former Justice Undersecretary Raymund Mecate as among those who harassed him by allegedly pressuring him to “further implicate and manufacture lies against Senator De Lima” and deputy directors Rachel Angeles and Vicente de Guzman for making his life “difficult” when he was detained.

"Fearing for my life and my family, I had no choice but to follow everything that these people asked me to do. I also did not want to go to jail for fear of being the subject of acts of revenge by criminals I put in jail as an NBI official and by inmates that I disciplined as BuCor OIC," he said.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RETRACTION

Ragos was among key witnesses a Muntinlupa court cited in junking 1 of De Lima’s 2 demurrer to evidence last year. 

A demurrer to evidence is essentially a motion to dismiss due to insufficiency of evidence.

In denying De Lima’s demurrer, the court cited Ragos’ and Ablen’s testimonies claiming they delivered money to Dayan in De Lima's house and De Lima supposedly received it from Dayan without protesting.

It also gave weight to statements by inmates that the funds involved supposedly came from the illegal drug trade despite De Lima's objection that these were hearsay or not based on their personal knowledge.

The court instead treated their statements as "independently relevant statements" — not to prove that the statements were true but only that they were made — which the court said may form part of circumstantial evidence.

The court applied the concept of implied conspiracy, saying De Lima allegedly "enabled NBP inmates to resort to illegal drug trading" supposedly to fund her senatorial campaign in exchange for benefits while she "appears to have profited" by receiving money collected inside NBP.

“The fact that they did not investigate the source of the money given to them can reasonably lead to the conclusion that they already know that the money came from the illegal drug dealings from inside the NBP since they knew that Ragos was then the OIC,” the court said.

The court wanted De Lima to explain the P10 million she supposedly received from Ragos and certain details about the surprise 2014 raid at the NBP where the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency were excluded, among other issues.

“These facts, if unrebutted, the same is prima facie sufficient to support a verdict of guilt against the accused,” the court said.

Ragos’ retraction puts these findings of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 into question. 

Lawyer Dino de Leon, De Lima’s spokesperson, said the Muntinlupa court cited Ragos’ testimony as one of the reasons for denying the demurrer.

He said he believes the effect is not limited to the case involving Ragos but also to another drug case where other BuCor officials are co-accused.

“This consistently shows the political persecution of Sen. Leila de Lima is well-orchestrated and in fact the entire machinery of the state was used in order to make sure that she rots in jail,” he said, adding that they are open to presenting Ragos as witness.

De Leon said "the truth is starting to come out" and challenged the Department of Justice to "do the right thing".

“Will the DOJ now do the right thing to reinvestigate the case and hopefully withdraw the charges against Sen. De Lima motu proprio and more importantly, to investigate their own ranks?” he asked.

REACTIONS

Malacañang "respects" the independence of the court in handling the case of De Lima, said its acting spokesman Martin Andanar. 

"At the same time, we continue to trust the Department of Justice and the National Prosecution Service in performing their mandates in investigating and prosecuting the charges against the lady senator," he said in a statement. 

Sought for comment on Ragos’ retraction, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said they have yet to see the affidavit.

“We will get a copy before we can make a statement,” he said in a text message.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also refused to comment.

“I really can’t comment till I have discussed the matter with the prosecutors concerned,” he said.

Last week, the DOJ downplayed the retraction of self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, who recanted all his allegations against De Lima.

The DOJ said he was not a witness in any of the court cases against the detained senator.

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 for allegedly pocketing drug payoffs from convicted crime lords at the New Bilibid Prison when she was still justice secretary. 

She has decried the charges as political persecution due to her opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs and her criticism of alleged human rights violations under his administration.

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