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Aguirre denies coercing Ragos to testify vs De Lima

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Aguirre denies coercing Ragos to testify vs De Lima
This file photo shows former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II denied that he coerced ex-Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, a key witness of the government against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, into making false statements to pin the lawmaker in the New Bilibid drug trade.

In a statement released Wednesday, Aguirre said Ragos “has always made it clear to me that his statements are true and he was voluntary offering them to use to correct an injustice and to tell the truth.”

“I was genuinely surprised at the statement of Mr. Rafael Ragos that I coerced him to execute affidavits involving Senator Leila de Lima in the drug trade in the Bilibid prisons. It is farthest from the truth, I was never involved in any efforts to coerce him,” Aguirre added.

In a span of a week, two persons who linked De Lima to the illegal drug trade in Bilibid recanted their testimonies: Confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and Ragos, who testified before the court that he handed two tranches of P5 million to De Lima through her aide.

While Espinosa was not utilized as prosecution witness in the cases against the opposition lawmaker, Ragos was a star witness in the second charge against de Lima — although the DOJ asserted the recantations will not in any way weaken their case against the senator.

Timing

Aguirre also pointed out that he was no longer the justice secretary when he testified in court in 2019, and in the five case conferences with the prosecution panel, coercion or retraction was not mentioned.

“In addition, Jovencio Ablen Jr., the NBI agent implicated by Mr. Ragos as being involved in the drug trade in the Bilibid prisons has maintained his allegations against Senator De Lima. This brings me to my next question, why only now?” he said.

Aguirre then points out that De Lima is running as a re-electionist senator.

“Lastly, as a lawyer, allow me to state that it is a time honored rule that RETRACTIONS ARE UNRELIABLE UNLESS BACKED UP BY INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE. As it is, devoid of any reliable back-up, the statement of Mr. Ragos is a worthless piece of paper,” he added.

In his notarized affidavit, Ragos said Aguirre, 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.

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 has been in detention for more than five years now, over drug charges that she vehemently denies and claims are politically-charged—an allegation the Palace has repeatedly denied.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

LEILA DE LIMA

VITALIANO AGUIRRE II

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