MANILA - Prosecutors have opposed detained Sen. Leila de Lima's bid to be released on bail in one of her drug cases, citing the timing of her plea over three years since her arrest.
In an opposition filed with the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 205 on July 15, prosecutors led by Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Bienvenido Ocampo Jr. faulted De Lima for filing a motion for bail only now, more than 3 years after she was arrested and detained on drug-dealing charges.
They argued, if the senator really believed the evidence against her is weak, she should have immediately filed the motion for bail and not wait for the court to admit additional testimonial and documentary evidence.
De Lima, a staunch administration critic, has denied charges against her, saying they were political persecution.
"[T]o convert the main trial on the merits into a summary bail hearing will only tend to delay the proceedings and will not even serve its purpose of granting her provisional liberty, considering that accused De Lima likewise faces two other drug cases that are non-bailable," they said.
Prosecutors also insisted they presented "strong evidence" on the alleged illegal activities inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) that supposedly show convicted Chinese druglords raised campaign money and sent them to the bank account of De Lima's alleged co-conspirator Jose Adrian Dera to fund her senatorial bid.
They accused De Lima of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic in moving for a bail hearing where prosecutors would be forced to present evidence. They noted they still have to fly to China to talk to 2 witnesses and get Jaybee Sebastian to testify.
Sebastian died on July 18 while inside the NBP due to myocardial infarction or heart attack, with COVID-19 indicated as a contributing condition, according to prison officials.
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De Lima has strongly denied the allegations against her.
In her reply dated July 27, the senator reiterated her position in her motion for bail that the prosecution has not presented evidence of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading nor that there was drug trading at all inside the NBP.
She cited Peter Co's testimony that the money and vehicles demanded from him were not for her senatorial bid but as ransom payment for the release of Co's niece. There is no proof either that she accepted the money and vehicles, she stressed.
The prosecution, according to De Lima, did not even contradict in their opposition that there is "absolutely no admissible, credible or direct evidence" that the case involves drugs.
She also questioned the credibility of some of the witnesses against her and pointed out that witnesses, in fact, testified that she was never engaged in any illegal drug activity.
In addition, De Lima argued she is not a flight risk, a point not rebutted by prosecutors.
While she admitted that granting her bail in this case would not mean she could immediately walk free because of 2 other pending cases, she insisted the court cannot be "held hostage by a pendency of another separate and independent proceeding."
De Lima faces 2 other drug cases in Muntinlupa involving a different set of alleged co-conspirators over the same NBP illegal drug trade.
Initially accused of illegal drug trading, prosecutors spent months amending the information to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, despite De Lima’s objection.
De Lima was arraigned only in August 2018 or 18 months after she was arrested in February 2017. Several judges have withdrawn from her cases.
Asked why De Lima applied for bail only now, her lawyer Boni Tacardon had previously said they were still contesting the Muntinlupa trial courts' jurisdiction to handle her cases, believing it was the Sandiganbayan that should try the senator.
In her reply, she pointed out she could invoke this right at any stage of the trial: "There is no deadline nor timeline in exercising this constitutional right to bail."