MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — A Muntinlupa court has denied the bail petition filed by former Senator Leila de Lima, her lawyer, Atty. Boni Tacardon, said Wednesday.
"Sad to inform you that the Court denied Sen. Leila’s Bail application," Tacardon said in a message to reporters.
The bail petition is in connection with De Lima's drug case pending before Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 involving Bilibid convicts who accused her of running the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
De Lima had denied the claim and assailed the credibility of government witnesses.
In a 35-page order, Muntinlupa RTC 256 Judge Romeo Buenaventura said that based on a "careful review of the totality of prosecution’s evidence, the Court is convinced that the evidence of guilt against all the above-named accused for the crime of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading is strong."
A bail petition in capital or "non-bailable" offenses such as conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading is granted only if the accused can show to the court that the evidence of guilt is not strong. But the burden of proof is on the prosecution.
The prosecution has so far presented 9 witnesses, including former Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief retired Gen. Benjamin Magalong and NBP inmates.
Citing the testimonies of the inmates, the court said there was an express agreement among the accused to commit illegal drug trading between Dayan and other inmates while De Lima’s agreement was said to be "implied."
Aside from De Lima and Dayan, other accused in the case include former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Wilfredo Elli, Joenel Sanchez, Jose Adrian Dera, and Jaybee Sebastian, who died allegedly due to COVID-19 in Bilbid in July 2020.
“The Court finds that the prosecution was able to prove prima facie the agreement and decision to commit illegal drug trading among the accused by evidence that NBP inmates were used — the overt act — to sell and trade dangerous drugs by means of mobile phones and other electronic devices, through direct proof, that is, the testimonies of the co-conspirators themselves, which are straightforward, positive, and interlocking in material details,” the order said.
The court also ruled there was an agreement and decision to commit illegal drug trading in receiving proceeds amounting to P70 million from illegal drug transactions and in raiding the Maximum Security Compound of the NBP without including Sebastian, supposedly to allow Sebastian to “centralize, control, and monopolize the drug trade inside NBP.”
De Lima questioned the testimonies of the witnesses but the court said the inconsistencies were minor and insignificant while the so-called hearsay statements can be considered "independently relevant statements."
The court dismissed De Lima’s argument that the witnesses are convicts not worthy of belief.
The court also rejected De Lima's invocation of humanitarian grounds, saying the former lawmaker is not suffering from any serious or life-threatening health condition.
Her hostage-taking experience, the court said, was an isolated occurrence.
But the court clarified that its ruling on De Lima’s bail petition, is in no way, a prejudgment on the case.
"[I]n finding the evidence of guilt strong, the Court does not in any way prejudge what the final outcome of the case will be. The culpability or innocence of the accused will still be decided on the basis of all the evidence presented by the parties and only after trial on the merits of the case."
'RESPECT THE COURT'
Reacting to the denial of De Lima’s bail petition, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Wednesday “we have to respect the court for its own ruling.”
"So probably the movants were not able to prove that the evidence was weak because when you submit something like this, you take a risk but it’s not the end of it," he added, noting that the case will still proceed to trial.
But Remulla blamed De Lima’s lawyers for not relying on habeas corpus and De Lima’s 6-year detention as the bases for the bail petition.
“Sinabi ko na dati 'yan. We would not have objected if there is a petition for bail based on humanitarian grounds because after all, six years na siya, anim na taon na syang naghihintay. Sana yun na lang sinulat nila at nag-intay muna yung kanyang abogado. Sinabi na namin na di naman papalagan kung ganun ang naging dahilan,” he told reporters.
“Pero gusto nilang magpasikat ng ganun, o magparinig o magpahiwatig na ang tingin nila ay kayang-kaya nila ang kaso. 'Yun ang kanilang desisyon e,” he said.
The bail petition was the last obstacle De Lima had to hurdle in regaining freedom after more than 6 years in detention.
She had earlier been cleared of two other drug cases which, she said, were forms of political persecution.
Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares expressed disappointment with the court's denial of De Lima's bail petition, saying it was "sure" that the International Criminal Court would "note this development."
"Top government officials involved in the killings in Pres. Duterte's drug war and the likes of Pharmally deal are scot-free, while Sen. Leila remains imprisoned from baseless trumped-up cases," Colmenares said.
"Dapat palayain na si Sen. Leila de Lima."
Carlos Conde, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said bail denial "prolongs the injustice committed against" the former senator.
"This flies in the face of her previous court acquittal in two cases, which clearly showed the political nature of her persecution. She has remained steadfast in her commitment to see that due process is done and this is what she gets in return. This is a sad day for her and for those who believe in the cause of human rights," he added.
Philippine and United States lawmakers also expressed dismay over the court's ruling.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who ran with de Lima under the opposition ticket in the 2022 polls, said she was "deeply frustrated" over the decision and the former senator's "prolonged detention."
"Again, for the sixth year in a row, this ruthless tide of injustice against Leila must stop, and the trumped-up charges immediately dropped," Hontiveros said.
US Senators Ed Markey and Richard Durbin also called for an end to de Lima's detention, calling it "unjustified."
"For more than six years, Senator Leila de Lima has survived life-threatening conditions for daring to speak truth to power. Her unjustified detention by the Philippines government must end now," Markey, who represents the state of Massachusett, said in a tweet.
"This is a tragic decision and a sad day for human rights champions in the Philippines. Former Senator Leila de Lima shouldn’t spend another minute in jail on bogus charges perpetuated by Duterte loyalists," Durbin also said in another tweet.