Ombudsman ruling junking De Lima bribery raps consistent with ours: DOJ

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2022 07:43 PM

Senator Leila De Lima leaves the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City on June 13, 2022 after appearing for her hearing. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Senator Leila De Lima leaves the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City on June 13, 2022 after appearing for her hearing. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Department of Justice said Thursday there is no inconsistency between a recent Ombudsman ruling junking bribery raps against former Senator Leila de Lima and an earlier DOJ resolution involving the same incident.

"The Department would like to reiterate and point out that we are consistent with the recent resolution of the Ombudsman. In fact, our resolution in 2017 comes way ahead," the DOJ said in a statement shared by incoming spokesperson Mico Clavano.

The statement cited a memorandum written by Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento for Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla wherein the former explained how the DOJ decided, in a February 14, 2017 resolution, to junk the drug case against De Lima despite a claim by self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa that he gave the then-Justice secretary P8 million in total through her bodyguard Ronnie Dayan. 

This was the same allegation that was the basis for the Ombudsman’s July 22, 2022 resolution dismissing the bribery raps.

"In the DOJ Resolution, the Panel did not consider the testimony of Kerwin Espinosa as there was no corroborating evidence to support his allegation that he delivered P8 million to the former Senator for future protection. Therefore, it was clear to the DOJ Panel of Prosecutors that Espinosa’s confession on the allegation of payment for protection was not convincing," the agency's press release said.

An excerpt of the 2017 resolution shared to the media shows that the panel of prosecutors recommended the dismissal of a drug complaint against De Lima because Espinosa’s payment was supposedly for future protection and the allegation had nothing to do with drugs.

"Clearly, the P8 million was an advance payment given by Kerwin to De Lima in exchange for future protection which never happened. Although De Lima won as a Senator during the May 2016 elections, nonetheless, Kerwin fled the country before she assumed her post on July 1, 2016. Hence, it cannot be said that Kerwin or his illegal drug business ever received protection from De Lima," the DOJ 2017 resolution said.

"Neither can Kerwin be charged on the basis of his extra-judicial confession absent of any independent corroborating evidence. Besides, it is clear that the complaint of the BI in PS XVI-INV-16L-00384 refers to the payments made by Kerwin to De Lima, through Dayan, from August 2015 to February 2016, and not to illicit drug activities of Kerwin prior thereto," it added. 

The Ombudsman, in its resolution, cited inconsistent statements of Espinosa and another witness, Marcelo Adorco, on how the alleged bribe money was paid and if De Lima was present to receive the money.

While Espinosa claimed he gave P8 million in four tranches at different locations to Dayan, Adorco claimed Espinosa gave the entire money to De Lima herself on one occasion at a Pasay restaurant.

They also gave conflicting views as to De Lima's supposed meeting in Baguio with Espinosa, which led the Ombudsman to conclude it was a chance meeting. 

Common to both rulings is the unreliability of Espinosa’s statements.

Espinosa recanted his allegations against De Lima in April this year.

Adorco followed suit in May.

The DOJ statement on Thursday also pointed out that the Ombudsman raps pertained to bribery charges while the pending cases before the Muntinlupa courts are drug charges, with different elements that must be proven.

"Basically, we are saying that the resolution of [the Ombudsman] was expected. We do not think, however, that it will have any bearing on the drug trading charges in court," the DOJ's Clavano said.

But for De Lima, the inconsistent statements in both the bribery and drug charges are proof the cases against her are "all based on lies and fabrications of witnesses who were either coerced or bribed at the behest of the vindictive former President," she said in a statement Wednesday.

"The recantations are just the final nail in the coffin of the whole Kerwin fairy tale that was woven by the Duterte administration to add to the Bilibid drug cases they also manufactured against me. One of these cases has since been dismissed. In another, the prosecution star witness Rafael Ragos also already recanted saying his testimony was all lies. The third case is based on the blatant lies of convicted criminals who are legally disqualified from testifying as state witnesses," she added.

De Lima is still facing two drug charges which she denounced as political persecution.

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