Drug case vs De Lima crumbles due to star witness' recantation

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Drug case vs De Lima crumbles due to star witness' recantation
Former Philippine senator and human rights campaigner Leila de Lima (C) reacts as she leaves a court in Muntinlupa city, suburban Manila on May 12, 2023. Jailed Philippine human rights campaigner Leila de Lima was acquitted on May 12, 2023 on one of two remaining drug trafficking charges filed against her under the Rodrigo Duterte administration, court officials said.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — While government prosecutors were able to prove the existence of the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison, their efforts to implicate former Sen. Leila de Lima in it crumbled due to the recantation of their erstwhile star witness.

This was the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204’s decision on one of two remaining drug cases against De Lima filed during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte whom she criticized over his brutal “war on drugs.”

The court through Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara was constrained to consider former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos' recantation as his testimony that De Lima received P10 million from proceeds of the drug trade inside the national penitentiary was necessary to convict her and her aide, Ronnie Dayan.

“Without his testimony, the crucial link to establish conspiracy is shrouded with reasonable doubt,” read the 39-page decision of the court which was handed down on Friday. “Ultimately, the retraction created reasonable doubt which warrants the acquittal of both accused.”

Rare exception

The court said that while recantations are “viewed with suspicion and reservation” and are “exceedingly unreliable,” there are special circumstances under which these can be given consideration.

“The rare exception is when there is no evidence sustaining the judgment of conviction other than the testimony of a witness or witnesses who are shown to have made contradictory statements as to material facts under which circumstances the court may be led to a different conclusion,” the decision read.

Ragos executed an affidavit in April 2022 saying “there is no truth whatsoever” to the allegations against De Lima which he said he was forced to say by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and other government lawyers.

“All of my allegations to the contrary in my affidavits and House and court testimonies are all fiction, false and fabricated,”  he said then.

Ragos had testified that he received P5 million on Nov. 24, 2012 and another P5 million on Dec. 15, 2012, from  Bilibid inmates involved in illegal drug trading, which he later handed to Dayan.

But in his affidavit, Ragos said: “As far as I know and based on my professional relationship with Sec. De Lima, she is incapable of doing anything illegal, much less engage in the illegal drug trade or accept money from Bilibid inmates.”

With the court giving weight to Ragos’ recantation, it said that the prosecution failed to establish that De Lima and Dayan were direct participants in illegal drug trading.

“[Conspiracy] was not established by positive and conclusive evidence,” the court said.

Drug trade exists

Despite this, the court said the prosecution was able to prove the existence of rampant illegal drug trading in Bilibid.

“The prosecution successfully proved the complex network of transactions wherein high-profile inmates at the NBP controlled and managed the illegal trafficking of drugs through the use of electronic mobile devices,” it said.

It continued, “Moreover, the prosecution witnesses testified on how these inmates were able to broker drug transactions from within NBP.”

The court noted the Dec. 15, 2014 raid on Bilibid where luxury kubols within its maximum security compound were discovered and illegal drugs, cash, firearms, ammunition and mobile phones used in the drug trade were confiscated.

It also gave weight to the testimony of a financial investigator from the Anti-Money Laundering Council who examined bank accounts that were later traced to high-profile Bilibid inmates where millions of pesos were deposited from across the country.

“Here, the prosecution competently established the existence of illegal drug trading at the NBP. However, the retraction of witness Ragos casts reasonable doubt on the participation of herein accused as conspirators therein,” the court said. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with