MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday confirmed the death of convicted drug lord Vicente Sy, one of the witnesses who testified against detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
“I have just been informed that Vicente Sy has died on account of various illnesses. But I still have to receive a formal report about it,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a message to the media, without providing additional details.
Sy was a convicted drug lord who was sent to the New Bilibid Prison to serve time on Dec. 14, 1999.
He was part of the Bilibid 19, a group of high-profile convicts who occupied luxury quarters and in whose possession illegal drugs and other contrabands were reportedly seized.
Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag confirmed Sy’s death, saying he was first brought to the Philippine Marine Naval Hospital on July 27 at 11 p.m. after he had difficulty breathing.
He was given oxygen and returned to his cell at the Philippine Marine Corps BuCor extension facility in Fort Bonifacio, where he had earlier been transferred along with other inmates who testified against De Lima.
Two days later, on July 29, Chaclag said Sy had seizures several times.
NBP doctors who visited him determined he suffered from stroke, said Chaclag.
Sy was taken to the NBP Hospital in Muntinlupa at 5 p.m. Thursday, then he was referred to the Ospital ng Muntinlupa.
“While waiting for available slot for admission at OsMun, PDL (person deprived of liberty) Sy experienced another cardiac arrest and succumbed at around 8 p.m. yesterday, July 29,” Chaclag said.
Sy's cadaver is scheduled to undergo autopsy.
WHO WAS SY?
Sy is the second witness against De Lima to have died in prison.
He allegedly heard about the delivery of drug money to De Lima but according to De Lima’s lawyers, he ended up admitting he never gave money to the senator.
Sy was among those injured in a stabbing incident with another convict, Jaybee Sebastian, just before they testified against De Lima.
Sebastian also died last year while inside the NBP, supposedly due to COVID-19.
His body was immediately cremated.
BuCor chief Gerald Bantag’s initial refusal to confirm Sebastian’s and other inmates’ death raised suspicions of possible body-switching, which prompted senators to call for a probe.
BuCor has denied these claims.
De Lima had questioned the testimonies of Sy and other convicts as well as their transfer to Fort Bonifacio supposedly over threats to their lives.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra defended the transfer, saying the President has the power to order the transfer of inmates.
Sebastian remained at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa and died there.
Before his death in July 2020, Sebastian executed an affidavit with new allegations against De Lima that had never been raised in his previous affidavits.
STATUS OF DE LIMA’S CASES
A Muntinlupa court junked 1 of 3 drug cases vs De Lima in February this year.
Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Judge Leizel Aquiatan dismissed the drug case involving self-proclaimed police asset Jad Dera after finding no link between him and the detained senator.
However, Aquiatan rejected De Lima’s move to dismiss a second drug case and her plea for bail in the case involving her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.
She cited former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and his aide NBI intelligence agent Jovencio Ablen’s testimonies claiming they supposedly delivered money to Dayan in De Lima's house, and De Lima allegedly received the money from Dayan without protesting.
De Lima has denied these allegations.
She moved for reconsideration of the ruling and, when that was denied, for Aquiatan’s inhibition.
Aquaitan inhibited in June this year. The case is now being handled by Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Acting Presiding Judge Gener Gito.
De Lima had also sought to post bail in the third case handled by Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 Judge Romeo Buenaventura, where the prosecution is still presenting evidence.
She has also moved to junk a disobedience to summons case before a Quezon City court in connection with her supposed advice to Dayan not to attend a House probe on the alleged Bilibid drug trade.
In a statement, Guevarra said Sy's death won't affect De Lima's drug cases.
"I have been informed that this witness had already testified in the criminal cases against Sen. De Lima. He had also been cross-examined. So I suppose his death will not have any impact on the prosecution of the cases," he said.