Palace: Witnesses 'can say whatever they want'
MANILA - Sen. Leila de Lima claimed Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the transfer of high-profile convicts to a detention facility of the Philippine Marines to "prepare" them for their impending court testimony against her, which Malacañang denied.
Duterte said Friday he ordered the transfer of 10 inmates out of the New Bilibid Prison because De Lima, a detained critic of his anti-narcotics, allegedly had people inside the national penitentiary. Among those transferred were 7 convicts who testified against the opposition senator in a 2016 House inquiry.
"Those convicts-witnesses had to be housed in a secluded, more controlled facility in order to 'prepare' them for their impending testimony in the ongoing trial in my drug cases before the RTC (Regional Trial Court)-Muntinlupa," De Lima said in a statement.
"Duterte’s operators — prosecutors and non-prosecutors alike — had to be given unlimited access, day and night, to these convicts-witnesses, so the latter can be 'primed' for their RTC appearance, ensuring that they would not turn around from, or recant their previous false and perjurious testimonies in that infamous 2016 House inquiry," she added.
A military facility like the Marines headquarters in Taguig has a "strict rule of non-access by unauthorized persons", compared to the "severely congested" Bilibid where visits to convicts-witnesses "would be quite obvious", said De Lima.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said the transfer was meant to "secure the safety of the witnesses para unang-una (so that first of all), they will remain alive."
"They can say whatever they want to say in court," he told reporters.
Justice Secretary Guevarra earlier said there was "nothing irregular" with the transfer if there was a court order authorizing it. He said he was not aware if such approval was sought.
Panelo said he was "not sure" whether or not there was a court order for the move,
De Lima has been detained at the national police headquarters in Quezon City since February 2017 over allegations that she accepted drug payoffs when she was still justice secretary, which she denied.
She is not entitled to bail and if found guilty, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.