MANILA — A Department of Justice prosecution panel has asked a Muntinlupa court to reconsider its ruling earlier this month acquitting former Sen. Leila de Lima in one of her drug cases.
In a 91-page motion for reconsideration dated May 27, DOJ prosecutors led by Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Bienvenido Ocampo, Jr. urged Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 to instead render a new ruling declaring De Lima and co-accused Ronnie Dayan “guilty” of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.
Muntinlupa Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara acquitted the former lawmaker on the basis of the recantation of former Bureau of Corrections OIC Rafael Ragos.
Ragos initially claimed he personally delivered 2 tranches of P5 million in drug money to De Lima’s house in Parañaque in November and December 2012, supposedly to aid De Lima’s senatorial bid.
But De Lima did not run in the 2013 elections.
Ragos, in April 2022, would execute an affidavit recanting all his allegations against De Lima, accusing instead former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aquirre II of coercing him to testify against her. Aguirre denied the allegations.
In their motion, DOJ prosecutors questioned the motive behind Ragos' recantation.
They said Ragos was silent for years, actively participated in congressional probes and court hearings and retracted 8 days before the 2022 polls, when De Lima ran for reelection. She ultimately lost her reelection bid.
“[T]he precipitous recantation of former NBI Deputy Director Rafael Marcos Z. Ragos is coming off as highly suspect and should not be the sole barometer and guiding threshold in rendering the assailed judgment,” they argued.
“[T]he subsequent recantation of witness Ragos was not sufficient to vitiate his original testimony voluntarily and solemnly given numerous occasions in congress, senate, media, and the court - under oath, in the presence of a judge, and subjected to extensive cross-examinations, as well as corroborated by several witnesses. To set aside a testimony which was solemnly taken before a court of justice in an open and free trial and under conditions precisely sought to discourage and forestall falsehood simply because one of the witnesses who had given testimony later on changed his mind would simply make a mockery of our criminal justice system,” they added.
Prosecutors cast doubt on Ragos’ coercion claim, noting his stature as a highly-educated man, his physical build and his positions as former intelligence officer and former BuCor OIC, who, they said, could protect himself and his own family from any threats.
They also presented 2 lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and a video allegedly showing that “he was talking calmly, spontaneously, relaxed, and even exercised control of when to start and to end the recordings.”
Quoting extensively Ragos’ previous testimony in court, prosecutors noted that he took an oath before different bodies 6 times from 2016 to 2019 confirming his allegation that he personally gave the money to Dayan, who allegedly handed it over to then-Justice Secretary De Lima.
Prosecutors insisted that Ragos’ original testimony was corroborated by other witnesses including Ragos’ former aide, Jovencio Ablen, Jr., who claimed to be with Ragos on both occasions.
While the court had acknowledged Ablen’s testimony, it ruled only Ragos had personal knowledge as to the supposed source of the money. With his recantation, it said there was reasonable doubt as to De Lima’s and Dayan’s participation in the supposed conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.
Aside from Ragos and Ablen, the prosecution had presented around 20 other witnesses supposedly to corroborate Ragos’ earlier claims, including convicted inmates from Bilibid, who claimed the money came from the illegal drug trade.
The Muntinlupa court had ruled that while the prosecution was able to prove the existence of illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison, it failed to prove that De Lima and Dayan conspired with the others.
State prosecutors have set their motion for reconsideration for hearing, although no date has been set yet.
MOTION TO EXPUNGE
De Lima’s legal team said it intends to file a motion to expunge the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration.
“Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case after acquittal which is final and executory. Even the judge no longer has jurisdiction to alter his own judgment of acquittal because it is final and executory immediately,” De Lima’s lawyers said.
They cited a November 2020 Supreme Court ruling, which said: “A judgment of acquittal, whether ordered by the trial or the appellate court, is final, unappealable, and immediately executory upon its promulgation.”
No less than Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had hailed De Lima’s acquittal as a triumph of the rule of law, although he did not rule out his prosecutors questioning the verdict.
He however acknowledged that acquittals in criminal cases are not appealable but a petition for certiorari could be filed to question a decision issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in “exceptional circumstances.”
De Lima initially faced 3 drug charges, one of which was dismissed in 2021 due to insufficient prosecution evidence.
Aside from the case where she was acquitted earlier this month, she is facing one more conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading case where her application to post bail remains pending.