Aguirre denies coercing Ragos to testify vs De Lima

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2022 06:17 PM | Updated as of May 05 2022 04:39 PM

MANILA — Former Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II denied Tuesday he coerced Rafael Ragos to testify against Sen. Leila de Lima regarding her alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade inside the Bilibid prisons.

In a statement, Aguirre said he left the DOJ in 2018 before Ragos testified in court. 

“Why only now?” he asked. "Why retract now when the May 9, 2022 National Elections is only a few days away and the accused, Senator Leila de Lima is lagging very far behind in surveys and voter's preferences?"

De Lima is seeking reelection in the May 9 elections.

Ragos, a former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official, on Monday retracted his allegations against the senator and accused Aguirre of coercing him. 

"Mr. Rafael Ragos is downright lying!" Aguirre said. "Contrary to his claim, I was never involved in coercing him to make statements involving Senator Leila De Lima in the drug trade in the Bilibid prisons," said Aguirre.

He said Ragos presented his statements to him as his "voluntary act." 

Accusing Ragos as "as a man with a grudge", Aguirre said he learned that the former NBI deputy director had asked for back pay and a government post but did not get any. 

For Aguirre, Ragos' retractions are unreliable unless supported by incontrovertible evidence. "As it is, devoid of any reliable back-up, the statement of Mr. Ragos is a worthless piece of paper," he said.

In a statement, De Lima branded Aguirre as a "certified liar."

"I hope he realizes the damage he has done to the DOJ as an institution," the opposition senator said.

"Walang expiration ang paglabas ng Katotohanan (There's no expiration to the truth coming to light)," she added.

Before Ragos, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa walked back all of his allegations against De Lima. 

Espinosa's counter-affidavit said any statement he had made against the senator was false and was the result "only of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats."

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 over illegal drugs charges that she consider as political persecution. The lawmaker is a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies, including the deadly war on drugs. 

Malacanang maintains that De Lima's cases have nothing to do with her views about the administration.

Meanwhile, De Lima's supporters on Wednesday trooped to the DOJ office in Manila to call for her immediate release. 

Her youngest sibling, Vicboy de Lima, also joined the protest, saying that Aguirre needs to own up to his mistakes and maintaining that charges against his sister were fabricated.

"Hindi ko alam kung nakakatulog kayo nang maigi pero ang ginawa n'yo po ay masama at dapat po siguro para magkaroon ng tamang kapatawaran, kailangan po siguro magsabi na kayo ng katotohanan, huwag n'yong sabihin na 'yung sinasabi ni Ragos ay hindi katotohanan," Vicboy de Lima said.

(I don't know if you're still getting a good night's sleep but what you have done is wrong and in order to have a reconciliation, you need to tell the truth. Don't say Ragos' retractions are not true.)

The senator's brother said that while their family feels "very much vindicated", they can't help but think of the lost years Leila has spent inside the prison. 

He also called on the current leadership of the DOJ to drop all the charges against his sister.

"Dear Mr. Secretary of Justice (Menardo Guevarra), do the right and just thing drop all the charges against my sister because you have no witnessess, you have no evidence… tama na po ang paggastos ng pera ng bayan para maging private prosecution arm ng isang diktador (stop using public funds to be a private prosecution arm for a dictator)," Vicboy de Lima said.

—with a report from Mike Navallo and Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News

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