MANILA - The camp of detained Senator Leila De Lima will formally ask a Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) to junk two of the three illegal drugs cases against her, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday rested its presentation of witnesses and other evidence.
De Lima faces Criminal Cases Nos. 17-165 (vs. De Lima and driver-aide, Ronnie Palisoc Dayan) and 17-166 (vs. De Lima and Jose Adrian “Jad” De Vera) before Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 for her alleged involvement in the New Bilibid Prison illegal drugs trade during her stint as Justice Secretary (2010-2016).
In indicting De Lima and her co-accused on February 20, 2017, the DOJ alleged complicity among them in a “conspiracy” to commit “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of dangerous drugs”, punishable under the Dangerous Drugs Act (Republic Act No. 9165).
“Since the very start, it’s our stand that there’s no case versus Sen. De Lima. That’s why we filed our leave to file demurrer… There’s insufficient evidence against Sen. De Lima,” said one of her lawyers, Atty. Rolly Peoro.
Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan gave De Lima's camp 10 days to submit the plea, after which the DOJ will also have 10 days to formally submit its comment or opposition.
On Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecutors expressed objection to the demurrer plea.
“We are confident that the proof that we have presented is persuasive, that indeed the elements of the crime that we have alleged against the accused have been proven,” said Caloocan Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete, who is part of the 13-member DOJ prosecuting panel.
“We made our objection and opposition known before the honorable court. And should they file their demurrer to evidence as ordered by the honorable court within the period provided, we will certainly give our strenuous objection and comment to their position, because we feel strongly that the prosecution has indeed established the guilt of all of the accused in the cases,” he added.
Around 20 witnesses were presented against De Lima, including some high-profile NBP inmates led by convicted druglords Peter Co and Vicente Sy, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy director Rafael Ragos, NBI agent Jovencio “Jun” Ablen, Jr., and officers from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
“Not only that, our exhibits — documentary and object —, most of them were admitted by the court. So tinanggap ho ng hukuman yung aming mga ebidensya, admitted na. And for that reason, we have been deemed rested with respect to the petition for bail and also the case in chief,” said Cañete.
Alleged drug transactions extracted from an NBP inmate’s mobile phone form part of the prosecution’s evidence.
“The venue of the crime is partly performed in Bilibid… and the witnesses to the crime are necessarily the inmates,” Cañete said.
De Lima, Dayan and De Vera (alleged bagman) also face a third separate illegal drugs case before the RTC, along with co-accused former Bureau of Corrections Director Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Wilfredo Elli and Joenel Sanchez.
NBP inmate Jaybee Sebastian, who died on July 18, 2020, was included in the third case.
Sebastian, who reportedly led the NBP gang ‘Presidio’, was serving time for carjacking and kidnap for ransom.
DE LIMA MAINTAINS “FIGHTING SPIRIT”
Peoro, De Lima's lawyer, said the senator, who has been incarcerated since February 24, 2017, has kept her fighting spirit.
“Knowing her, always fighting spirit naman si Madame despite her incarceration. So siyempre holidays, siyempre lonely yan. Pero she’s our source of fighting spirit of hope. So tuloy-tuloy lang naman (sa legal battle).”
The trial court has 30 days after the DOJ’s comment submission to rule on the demurrer.
In the event the plea is denied, De Lima’s camp will present her defense beginning March 5. Her lawyers intend to call former Intelligence Service of Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) chief and now-Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as their first witness.
“Sec. Año is a former intelligence officer, intelligence chief of ISAFP. We want to get information from him… that there was no intel report or any link against Sen. De Lima in the illegal drugs trading.”
WHAT WENT BEFORE
A staunch critic of former Davao City Mayor and now-President Rodrigo Duterte since her stint as Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair from 2008 until 2010, De Lima has repeatedly decried her indictment as part of efforts to stifle the political opposition.
De Lima investigated the alleged ‘Davao Death Squad’ being linked to but repeatedly denied by Duterte.
On August 12, 2016, over a month since he was inaugurated as President, Duterte warned he would soon “destroy” a high-ranking public official.
“One day soon, bitiwan ko iyan in public, and I will have to destroy her in public,” Duterte said.
Nine days later, Duterte named De Lima in a public address, and accused her of being on top of the alleged NBP drug trade which reportedly controls 70-percent of the country’s illegal drugs industry.
“All of these things happened under your nose and ‘shabu’ was floating inside and it was being --- and what was really painful and the reason why we knew and I know because they were trafficking shabu from the inside,” Duterte said.
On August 25 of the same year, Duterte publicly released a drug matrix of the alleged conspiracy among De Lima, Dayan, other government officials and drug lords inside the NBP.
On September 20, 2016, lawmakers investigated the allegations and summoned high-profile NBP inmates who pinned down De Lima.
Citing Section 10 of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA No. 6981), De Lima argued before the trial court that state witnesses must not have been “at any time convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.”
The DOJ, however, insisted that the convicts’ testimonies are admissible because they were presented as ordinary witnesses and not witnesses for the state.
Malacañang has maintained to this day that the case against De Lima is not one of persecution, but prosecution.