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DOJ insists case vs De Lima strong after star witness recants testimony

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ insists case vs De Lima strong after star witness recants testimony
This file photo shows the Department of Justice.
File photo

MANILA, Philippines — As prosecution star witness Rafael Ragos recants his allegations against Sen. Leila de Lima, the Department of Justice on Monday cast doubt on the former Bureau of Corrections official's motives and asserted the retraction cannot "destroy strength of evidence" against the detained opposition lawmaker.

"The affidavit of Ragos dated 30 April 2022, recanting his previous statements will not at this stage destroy the strength of evidence of the case against accused De Lima and [Ronnie] Dayan," the DOJ said in a statement.

“It is left to the appreciation of the court to consider his affidavit of recantation if it can completely destroy his previous affidavits and testimonies,” it added.

Ragos previously testified that he received P5 million on Nov. 24, 2012 and another P5 million on Dec. 15, 2012, from New Bilibid Prison inmates involved in illegal drug trading, which he later handed to De Lima’s aide, Ronnie Dayan. The second case against De Lima stands on this allegation.

But, on April 30, the former BuCor executive recanted his testimony and said he was threatened, by then-Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and other officials, to make false allegations against the senator.

He claimed that the then-DOJ chief, National Bureau of Investigation officials, Public Attorney’s Office lawyers and even the prosecution panel itself were in the meetings where he was told to corroborate testimonies against De Lima.

He said: "I now hereby declare and make known to the whole world that there is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigatory proceedings, including the Senate and the DOJ, on the delivery of monies to Sec. De Lima or Ronnie Dayan in whatever amount."

Motive?

The DOJ pointed out that Ragos' recent affidavit came five years since he testified in Senate hearing and even three years after he testified in court. It added that he also reiterated his dealings with De Lima in September 2019.

"In all of the foregoing instances, there was no mention of coercion or intimidation. Thus, the glaring delay on the part of Ragos in recanting his previous statements is indeed questionable and casts doubt on its truthfulness. His motive as well is highly suspicious," it added.

Ragos’ retraction came just days after confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa also recanted his allegations against De Lima. But while Espinosa is not a prosecution witness, as said by the Department of Justice, Ragos is, in one case against the senator.

But the DOJ insisted that Ragos’ retraction "has minimal effect" as they asserted that other prosecution witnesses’ testimonies are enough to prove the charges against de Lima.

According to the department, Ragos was the fifth witness in the second case against De Lima, pending before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204. While he was not used as a witness in the third case, pending before Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256.

The first case against the senator has already been dismissed.

Investigation

In a separate message to reporters, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that Ragos’ affidavit, which alleged improper behavior of department officials and even the prosecution team, may be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman for appropriate action.

But will the DOJ conduct its own investigation?

Guevarra replied: "Under the circumstances, where the DOJ is prosecuting the cases against Senator de Lima, and certain DOJ officials are specifically mentioned in Mr, Ragos’ affidavit of retraction, it will be to everyone’s interest that any inquiry into the truthfulness of Mr. Ragos’ recent allegations be conducted by an independent agency with jurisdiction to do it, specifically the Office of the Ombudsman."

De Lima: No surprise at Aguirre’s involvement

De Lima meanwhile said she did not expect Ragos to retract his statements, but she is “glad he did,” noting that his participation seemed to be involuntary.

But the senator said there was no surprise to find the names of Aguirre and former National Bureau Deputy Director Reynaldo Esmeralda in the affidavit was no surprise. She said she always knew Aguirre was “the leading instigator of the fabricated cases against her” while Esmeralda has an axe to grind against her.

"I have also always suspected that the DOJ Panel of Prosecutors, or some of them, would have known that Ragos was lying on the witness stand. Ragos’s retraction only confirms that they did and that, all along, they were guilty of suborning false testimony," De Lima added.

She said it is now only a matter of time that other witnesses are identified as bribed or coerced to pin her to the Bilibid drug trade.

"It appears, after all, that justice will still be served, no matter how late. Five years too late. But indeed, Truth often bides its time. It patiently waits and is never vanquished," the re-electionist senator added.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

LEILA DE LIMA

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