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More witnesses vs De Lima targeted for retraction – Aguirre

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
More witnesses vs De Lima targeted for retraction â Aguirre
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 — Aside from self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa and former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, there may be other witnesses in the illegal drug trade cases against Sen. Leila de Lima who could soon recant their testimonies, according to an ex-official implicated in alleged coercion.

In an interview over radio dzMM, former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday said there are other witnesses in the case who are being targeted to issue retractions.

Among them is convicted bank robber and drug lord Herbert Colanggo, one of 18 people who testified about the alleged drug operations and protection racket in New Bilibid Prison when De Lima was justice secretary.

Aguirre said these attempts were intended to create sympathy for De Lima, who has been in prison for five years, with the hope that she would be able to get more votes since she is seeking reelection.

Aguirre questioned the timing of Espinosa and Ragos’ retractions, which took place weeks before the May 9 elections.

He expressed belief that “there is a group behind all these to improve the image and gain public sympathy.

He said this was intended to improve the chances of candidates not doing well in surveys and this includes De Lima.

In a latest Pulse Asia survey, conducted from April 16 to 21, De Lima ranked 21 to 27 in the senatorial race.

Aguirre said people who issued retractions, clearing De Lima of any involvement in the illegal drugs case, were not spontaneous, and that he knows who is orchestrating all these things.

He said Ragos issued an affidavit retracting his statement that he delivered millions of pesos of drug money to De Lima’s residence.

Instead of submitting his affidavit to the Muntinlupa City court where it could have a direct effect on the case, the document was given to members of the media.

This proves, he said, that these are merely “propaganda” since the opposition candidates are lagging behind in pre-election surveys.

Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Espinosa and Ragos’ retractions warrant an urgent, unbiased and transparent investigation of the alleged fabrication of evidence and coercion of witnesses against De Lima.

Hontiveros said “the admission of not one, but two witnesses, that their allegations against De Lima were fabricated only confirm what we knew all along: the criminal charges against her are fake, baseless, and motivated only by malice and political vendetta.”

She said an inquiry must be made to check if similar to Ragos and Espinosa, the testimonies of other witnesses against De Lima were scripted and made under duress.

“Ragos, Espinosa and any new witnesses should be secured to prevent any and all attempts to silence them,” Hontiveros said. “All law enforcement authorities and public officials who are behind these trumped-up charges must be identified, investigated, and held accountable under the law.”

She said the connection of former justice chief Aguirre to these acts should be scrutinized, given that he was previously caught red-handed in the Senate cooking up baseless criminal charges against her as a member of the opposition.

Hontiveros said high-ranking officials, both past and present who misused and abused their powers in a conspiracy against De Lima, should not escape criminal and administrative liability: “There should be no cover-ups and no sacred cows.”

She said the government should not waste time and resources on a case in which vital witnesses are, one after another, admitting that their testimonies have been fabricated.

“Sen. Leila de Lima must be freed immediately from her unjust detention,” Hontiveros said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe

LEILA DE LIMA

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