De Lima acquitted in 1 of 3 drug cases

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
De Lima acquitted in 1 of 3 drug cases
In this photo taken February 17, 2021, Sen. Leila De Lima attends the trial of the third drug case she is facing at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256.
Office of Sen. Leila De Lima / release

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:31 p.m.) — Sen. Leila de Lima has been acquitted in one of the three drug cases she is facing, but the trial with two others will continue as the Muntinlupa court granted only one of her bids challenging the sufficiency of evidence against her.

De Lima is facing three conspiracies to commit illegal drug trading cases before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205. In both cases, De Lima had filed a demurrer to evidence, but the court granted only one motion, in the case where she is facing charges with Jad Dera, previously said to be her nephew but later claimed to be a police asset.

"The Demurrer to Evidence filed by Accused Leila De Lima is hereby granted. The petition for bail is rendered moot and academic as the grant is tantamount to her acquittal," the ruling read, as posted by News5.

A demurrer to evidence is a challenge to the prosecution’s evidence that, when granted, will lead to case dismissal without the accused having to present their defense.

The same court, however, junked De Lima's demurrer to evidence on the case where her former aide Ronnie Dayan stands as co-accused was denied. The court had also denied her and Dayan's Petition for Bail.

"Let the initial reception of defense evidence set on March 5, 2021 at 9:00 in the morning proceed as scheduled," Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan said.

This means that De Lima essentially has been acquitted in one of the three drug cases filed against her, but she still faces two drug cases.

De Lima acquitted in one case

The court had granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence in Case No. 17-166, while it denied Dera’s same pleading. Dera, however, was allowed to post a bail bond of P500,000.

Dera raised that there were inconsistencies with the testimonies of Serrano, Hans Anton Tan and Peter Co, but these were “minor in details that are irrelevant to the consecutive elements of the crime” and cannot be grounds for acquittal, the court said.

“The fact remains that Dera received money from the inmates as testified to by prosecution witnesses vis-à-vis his bank records,” it added.

The court held that the prosecution was able to establish a link between drug trafficking through the use of mobile phones inside New Bilibid Prison and witness Peter Co through the testimonies of the other prosecution witnesses.

“While there exist a factual link that Peter Co delivered money to Dera through his bank transactions, this Court is convinced that the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence to establish Dera’s relationship or connection with De Lima,” the order read.

RELATED: Jad Dera's camp: He's not De Lima's nephew or aide, but police asset

It also noted that the prosecution clarified the reckoning period was from January 2016, but De Lima had resigned as justice secretary on Oct. 12, 2015. “Drug trading may have been rampant during her sting as the Secretary of Justice but Dera may also have happened to use her name to gain from this prevalence. It bears to note that Dera’s promise to transfer the inmates did not materialize, which proves that he has no influence to accused De Lima,” it added.

“Apparently, the prosecution failed to elicit strong evidence to sustain a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt on the part of De Lima. To emphasize, there is not even proof posited that the Three Million Pesos and four cars mentioned in the Information were received by her or used by her during the 2016 election,” the court said.

Case with Dayan as co-accused to proceed

In the case where De Lima faces a drug charge with Dayan, the court denied their demurrers to evidence, including their petition to bail.

“From the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, it is clear that the money were collected as contributions to the fund raising of accused De Lima for her campaign as senator,” the ruling read.

The court also said that De Lima and Dayan accepted the money from former Bureau of Corrections Officer-in-Charge Rafael Ragos without protest.

Noting that they did not conduct an investigation into the source of the money, it “can reasonably lead to the conclusion that they already know that the money came from illegal drug dealings” from the Bilibid where Ragos serves as OIC.

“The prosecution witnesses sufficiently established that accused De Lima, as the Secretary of Justice at the time, enabled the NBP inmates to resort to illegal drug trading so that they can collect funds for her campaign in exchange of benefits inside” such as use of kubols or luxury cottages or mobile phones.

The court then held that after review of prosecution evidence, De Lima and Dayan must explain the P10 million they received, why were the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group excluded from Oplan Galugad, and why illegal drug trading continued even after the raid.

"These facts, if unrebutted, the same is prima facie sufficient to support a verdict of guilt against the accused," the court added.

De Lima’s trial

De Lima’s trial will be entering its fourth year. She has been detained inside the police headquarters since Feb. 24, 2017, over charges she said where filed due to her strong criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The senator is also facing another drug case pending before Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256. In this case, where she faces the same charge with six others, the prosecution is still presenting evidence. The court is also still conducting hearings on De Lima’s motion for bail.

READ: De Lima seeks grant of provisional liberty in third drug case

Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said his department has “always trusted in the good judgment and impartiality of the trial court.”

“We believe that the honorable judge has diligently examined and weighed all the evidence presented by the prosecution before making a determination as to its sufficiency or insufficiency, and for this reason, we reiterate our utmost respect,” he added.

State prosecutors initially charged De Lima with drug trading, but they later amended it to accuse the senator of conspiracy to commit drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison. She supposedly committed this when she was the justice secretary during the Aquino administration.

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