MANILA (UPDATE) – A Marine officer on Thursday denied that he was being pressured by the Duterte administration to implicate Senator Leila de Lima in the narcotics trade.
“Categorical ko pong dine-deny na pine-pressure ako o mayroong nananakot o nagko-coerce sa akin from the side of the government upang magsalita ako laban sa kanya,” Lieutenant Colonel Ferdinand Marcelino said in a news conference.
Marcelino, however, admitted that someone, whose exact affiliation he does not know, had asked him if he has damaging information against De Lima.
"Hindi ko masabi kung siya ay nirerepresenta niya ang kung sinong grupo... Hindi ko alam ang real purpose niya at the time na kinausap niya ako. Pero sabi ko sa kanya na katotohanan lang talaga ang pwede kong sabihin," he said.
[I don't know who he was representing at the time we talked... I don't know his real purpose. But I told him I will only tell the truth.]
De Lima on Thursday said Marcelino had sent two text messages to a common friend saying he was being pressured to turn against her.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday reversed an earlier resolution dismissing all charges against Marcelino, saying there was enough ground to pursue a drug possession complaint against Marcelino following a raid in Manila last January.
“Look at the circumstances. I have no reason to doubt what was forwarded to me from Colonel Marcelino na iniipit siya para ituro whatever it is na ituturo nila sa akin [to corroborate whatever it is that they’re throwing against me],” De Lima told reporters.
De Lima read both text messages to reporters. In the first message sent on July 19, Marcelino said “fabricated stories” were being prepared against him to convince him to “speak against” the senator.
"Hindi pa ako masyadong makagalaw at labas ngayon dahil ang daming gustong kumatay sa akin, bok. Di ko pa rin mapuntahan si Senator LD (Leila De Lima) kasi ginagawan kami ng mga fabricated stories," he said in the message.
[I cannot move much nowadays because a lot of people are targeting me. I also cannot go to Senator LD (Leila De Lima) because fabricated stories will be made about us.]
"There are also some groups that are trying to convince me to speak against her, but rest assured na hindi ako pagagamit sa kanila, Mistah. Not only because I really appreciate it and forever indebted sa inyo ni ma’am, but because people deserve no less than the truth and justice," it followed.
"Mistah" is a term used by alumni of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) to refer to classmates.
In the second message sent on Sept. 5, Marcelino said, according to De Lima: “Pressures against me are mounting. They would even reopen my case, but rest assured that I will never give in to them.”
Marcelino also told the common friend to tell De Lima to “keep (the) faith and be strong.”
During Thursday evening’s press conference, however, Marcelino said his text messages to his mistah were taken out of context.
“Ang konteksto ng mga palitan namin ng text messages ng aking mistah ay unang-una, sinasabi ko doon na pinaaalalahanan ko siya (De Lima) na maging strong kasi alam ko po na dumadaan siya sa isa ring matinding pagsubok at haharapin niya ang isang malaking sigwa,” he said.
[The context of my text message to him was first, I was telling De Lima to be strong because I knew she was also going through difficult times.]
“Natural lang sa tao, na alam ko rin, kamag-anak siya (De Lima) ng mistah ko, binigyan ko siya ng words of encouragement. Normal lang naman po iyon. Hindi po iyun nangangahulugan na ako ay isang napakalapit kay Senator De Lima.
[I know he is a relative of De Lima, so I gave him words of encouragement. But that does not mean I am close to De Lima.]
Marcelino added, he was surprised that De Lima released the text messages as these were "privileged communications." He said the exchange of text messages took place last July.
De Lima, for her part, said Marcelino needs to clarify his latest statement denying he gave permission to his mistah to forward his messages to her.
De Lima said she relied on the mistah's statements, and that she doesn't have Marcelino’s numbers.
But she is confident that the source of the text messages would not lie to her. “Hindi naman pwede mag imbento ang source ko [My source would not invent information.],” she said.
Detained crime lords presented by the DOJ to Congress this week accused De Lima of receiving kickbacks from the illegal drug trade, which was being run from inside the national penitentiary.
The witnesses said drug money was used to fund De Lima's senatorial campaign last May.
The House hearings came after De Lima began investigating hundreds of deaths in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. She was removed this week as head of the committee handling that investigation.