Muntinlupa court acquits De Lima in 2nd drug case

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Muntinlupa court acquits De Lima in 2nd drug case
This photo taken April 28 shows former Sen. Leila de Lima on her way to attending a hearing at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204, where her second drug case is pending.
Office of Leila de Lima / released

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:04 a.m.)  — A Muntinlupa court on Friday acquitted former Sen. Leila de Lima in the second drug charge against her—the same case where the prosecution star witness admitted to making false allegations against the former senator.

In this specific case, De Lima was accused of receiving P10 million, in two tranches, from former corrections chief Rafael Ragos. The money supposedly came from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Ragos, in 2022, however recanted his testimony against the former senator and admitted that he was coerced to make false allegations against De Lima, who has long insisted the cases against her are trumped up.

This draws to a close the second drug case of De Lima, which was filed early in 2017. She was acquitted in one case in 2021, while one more case is pending.

De Lima arrived at Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 a little past 8 a.m. amid heavy security and was greeted by a sparse crowd of supporters chanting "Free Leila!"

Court: Ragos recantation creates reasonable doubt

In its decision, the court said that prosecutors failed to establish that De Lima was part of a conspiracy to facilitate the illegal drug trade at Bilibid.

“To be considered a part of the conspiracy, each of the accused must be shown to have performed at least an overt act in pursuance or in furtherance of the conspiracy, for without being shown to do so none of them will be liable as a co-conspirator,” it said.

The court noted that recantations of testimony are generally “viewed with suspicion and reservation” since these can be secured through initimidation or for money and could later on also be repudiated.

But, the court said, Ragos' testimony, which he has since recanted, was “necessary to sustain any possible conviction.” His retraction, then, created reasonable doubt in the case.

“I had no doubt from the very beginning that I will be acquitted in all the cases the Duterte regime has fabricated against me based on the merits and the strength of my innocence,” De Lima, in a statement through her lawyer, said.  

“That's already two cases down, and one more to go. I am of course happy that with this second acquittal in the three cases filed against me, my release from more than six years of persecution draws nearer,” De Lima, a former justice secretary and chair of the Commission on Human Rights before that, said.

The acquittal was also welcomed by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, whose department has administrative control of the National Prosecution Service.

“The rule of law has prevailed and it just points out to us that the independence of the judiciary is a basic foundation of our democratic system. So it’s good, it’s good for us,” he said.

Bail petition on third drug case still pending

De Lima has already asked that court handling her third case to allow her to post bail, but resolution has yet to be released. Her lawyers said they hope that the court resolves their plea for provisional freedom soon.

If granted, De Lima would be released from detention.

De Lima, who earned former President Rodrigo Duterte's ire for her investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the "war on drugs", has been on trial since February 2017 on charges that she insists are politically-motivated.

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

Her cases, alongside those against journalist Maria Ressa, have gained international attention. Calls from abroad for the cases to be dismissed have been rejected as meddling in domestic issues.

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