MANILA — Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento on Wednesday denied claims of detained Sen. Leila de Lima's lawyers that witnesses against her have recanted their earlier statements linking her to the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
Malcontento made this clarification at a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum Wednesday morning when he was asked about the status of the De Lima drug cases.
“Walang recantation to discuss. Walang nangyaring recantation,” he said.
“Ang nangyari ho kasi d'yan, 'yung konting sagot ng witness, 'yun lang ang ipi-pickup at idi-discuss sa media. But not the entirety of the testimony. Wala po 'yan. Ngayon, it is not fair because we have to respect the independence of the courts. So kami, we will not engage into that kind of thing,” he explained.
De Lima is facing 3 charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade, allegations stemming from her stint as justice secretary. She got involved, as alleged, supposedly to raise funds for her senatorial bid.
Her lawyers recently told the media that several witnesses, including convicted druglord Vicente Sy, officials from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, among others, supposedly admitted on the witness stand that they do not have personal knowledge about De Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Malcontento said this is a violation of the sub-judice rule which prohibits parties from discussing the merits of a case in public and warned they will be filing a petition for contempt against De Lima’s lawyers.
“We will file it the soonest possible time. Expect the petition to be filed latest by next week,” he said, calling the act of De Lima's lawyers "contemptuous."
In response to queries from reporters after the forum, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed he gave instructions to file petitions for contempt.
“I asked the prosecutors to keep the battle inside the courtroom and to consider the filing of petitions to cite for contempt certain persons who knowingly make comments or render opinions on the probative value of evidence being presented in court, with a clear intent to influence the judge’s appreciation of the evidence,” he said in a message.
“It’s one thing to state facts about the court proceedings; it’s a totally different matter to give an opinion about the weight of the evidence,” he added.
De Lima’s legal team has repeatedly raised the supposed lack of evidence against her more than 3 years into her prosecution, including the absence of the money trail and the report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Malcontento insisted there is an AMLC report.
“There is an Anti-Money Laundering report. But the problem is, kami sa prosecution, we will not discuss it in public."
ABS-CBN News also reported that on the last day of the presentation of evidence against De Lima, the prosecution went to the extent of introducing as evidence the affidavit executed by alleged druglord and convicted kidnapper Jaybee Sebastian 6 days before his sudden death in July allegedly due to COVID-19.
The affidavit contains new allegations including Sebastian’s supposed knowledge about 2 transactions in 2012 when De Lima supposedly received P5 million each from a druglord in Bilibid but which Sebastian never mentioned in his previous statements.
Several witnesses accused Sebastian of running the illegal drug trade in Bilibid for De Lima but the prosecution was not able to present him in court.
De Lima’s lawyers objected to the introduction of the affidavit saying they will be deprived of their right to cross-examine him on the witness stand.
Malcontento said the new affidavit would help but is “not absolutely necessary” to prove their case.
“Makakatulong 'yun sa case ng prosecution (It can be helpful in the case of the prosecution). In a general sense, I will not go into the details. But since wala na si Jaybee Sebastian, in-introduce namin 'yung (Since Jaybee Sebastian is gone, we introduced the) affidavit to prove na it was voluntarily made and there was a statement made by Jaybee Sebastian that would have strengthened further the case,” he said.
Guevarra earlier said the death of Sebastian will not affect the prosecution of De Lima’s cases.
He also rejected calls from Democrats in the United States to release De Lima and insisted that a Supreme Court case has in fact validated the charges filed against her.
“It’s rather not possible from a legal standpoint, that all of a sudden, in the midst of trial, the prosecution will suddenly say that we are withdrawing the information after having presented evidence during the trial of the case. That is procedurally and substantially impossible to do. So what should be done here is to let the entire process come to its logical conclusion,” he said.
“It’s not a political process, it’s a legal and judicial process. So no amount of calls from anyone can affect the process.”
De Lima, a vocal administration critic, has been detained at the PNP Custodial Center since February 2017. She has decried her cases as political persecution.