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Blanket denial from De Lima

A photo presented during the hearing showing Kerwin Espinosa with then justice secretary Leila de Lima in Baguio City in 2015. Espinosa said it was taken shortly after he had given money to De Lima. She has said she does not know everyone who wants a photo with her. 

MANILA, Philippines – There was no real face-off at the Senate yesterday as Sen. Leila de Lima declined to answer point by point the detailed testimony of drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, who confirmed giving her P8 million for her election campaign.

Instead De Lima, who attended the daylong probe on the killing of Espinosa’s father, issued a “categorical” blanket denial of all the allegations against her, asking God to forgive Espinosa’s “lies” even as she said she was forgiving him.

“May God forgive you for all your sins, and may God forgive you for all your lies about me,” De Lima said. “I forgive you.” 

Testifying before the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, Espinosa claimed he gave De Lima P8 million through her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.

De Lima was allowed to have first crack at Espinosa after he finished reading his affidavit where she was mentioned several times, but she waived her right to ask him questions.

“I feel that it would be pointless, useless, futile for me to do so given a very nice script, at least insofar as the portions of his testimony about me are concerned,” De Lima said.

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The former justice chief again denied receiving any drug money, especially from Espinosa, a self-confessed drug trader in the Eastern Visayas region.

“But let me say to my colleagues here, and everyone in this hall, and to everyone listening and watching these proceedings. I say this to you: I categorically, firmly and absolutely deny having known Mr. Kerwin Espinosa. I do not remember any instance or occasion of having met him,” De Lima said.

“I categorically, firmly and absolutely deny having received any money, any cash from Mr. Kerwin Espinosa, either directly or indirectly through anyone else, in any occasion at any time, whether that money is supposedly for either protection or fund-raising for campaign expenses,” she added.

De Lima said that the testimony of Espinosa was fabricated and was done “under gunpoint, under duress,” at least on the portions about her.

She said that it would also be inappropriate for her to ask Espinosa questions since her objectivity would be questioned.

In his testimony, Espinosa recalled that sometime in August 2015, he received a call from Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, the municipal police chief of Albuera, Leyte, informing him that the driver-bodyguard of then justice secretary De Lima wanted to talk to him.

Espenido told Espinosa that De Lima was in need of funds for her senatorial bid for the 2016 general elections and wanted him to contribute.

Espinosa said that he consulted his two principals – Jeffrey Diaz, who was also known as Jaguar, and Peter Co – about the information relayed to him by Espenido and both confirmed it was legitimate.

He said that Co told him there should be no problem with De Lima, but that he should keep everything under wraps.

Shortly after receiving the call from Espenido, Espinosa said he received a call from the driver of De Lima, who did not give his name at the time.

‘Goodwill money’

According to Espinosa, the driver, whom he identified later as Ronnie Dayan, was asking for P2 million a month for De Lima.

Espinosa said he haggled with Dayan and managed to bring the amount down to P700,000. While Dayan agreed to the lower amount, he sought P2 million in “goodwill money,” Espinosa said.

In the same month, Espinosa said he handed over the P2 million in cash to Dayan at the multi-level parking building of the Mall of Asia (MOA).

Espinosa said that he was not able to provide the P700,000 monthly payoff to De Lima because Dayan changed the terms of their agreement and sought P8 million instead before the elections.

In exchange for his cooperation, Espinosa said he was promised protection, especially in areas where he could expand his drug trade after the elections.

After the P2-million payoff in August, Espinosa said that he handed over another P1.7 million to Dayan at Dampa on Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City. In both instances, Espinosa said that he did not see De Lima.

Concerned that the money may not actually be reaching De Lima, Espinosa asked Dayan for a face-to-face meeting with her. Dayan agreed but said that it should not be in Manila.

The meeting eventually took place in Burnham Park in Baguio City sometime between Nov. 19 and 22, when Espinosa said he handed over P2 million to Dayan.

Espinosa recalled seeing De Lima in the park and heard Dayan telling her that “Batman,” his code name for his drug dealings, was present.

Together with his wife, Espinosa said they had their picture taken with De Lima, after which he told her that the money was already with Dayan. Espinosa said De Lima responded with a nod and softly said “thank you” before leaving.

The photo has been circulating in social media in the past months.

The last meeting between Espinosa and Dayan occurred at around the first weekend of February this year at the parking building of MOA, where the balance of P2.3 million was delivered.

“I completed the P8 million that they asked for ma’am Leila. I was able to talk to Ronnie again and he reiterated his promise of protection and to provide no obstacle in the areas where they were dealing drugs,” Espinosa said in Filipino.

During the hearing, Espinosa also cleared several officials of Leyte previously implicated in his drug group.

Reading the list of names mentioned by Chief Insp. Leo Laraga as being involved in the Espinosa drug group during the first hearing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked Espinosa if he had any dealings with any of them.

Mentioned by Laraga were Leyte 3rd District Rep. Vicente Veloso, Gov. Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, Vice Gov. Carlo Loreto, Baybay Vice Mayor Michael Cari, Ormoc City chief prosecutor Marcelo Oñate, Ormoc Mayor Richard Gomez and Ronda Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab.

Espinosa cleared all of the officials mentioned by Laraga.

On Dayan’s admission that he had picked up cash deliveries for her, De Lima said she was confident truth would prevail.

She lashed out at the Duterte administration for weaving lies “into this tall-tale narrative of a human rights and justice advocate turned drug queen.”

“It appears that Ronnie Dayan has been successfully turned into another one of my accusers by this administration,” the senator said in a statement. – With Paolo Romero

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