Court junks de Lima's petition for bail in last drug case

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court junks de Lima's petition for bail in last drug case
Atty. Leila M. de Lima attends the resumption of hearing in one of the two remaining drugs charges filed against her on March 20, 2023 at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256.
Office of Leila De Lima / release

MANILA, Philippines (2nd update: 5:58 p.m.) — A Muntinlupa court has denied former Sen. Leila de Lima’s petition for bail on her remaining drug case.

Her lawyer Boni Tacardon relayed this to reporters on Wednesday. “Sad to inform you that the Court denied [former] Sen. Leila’s Bail application,” he said.

“Wherefore, premises considered, the instant petitions and motions for bail are hereby denied,” the ruling penned by Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura dated June 7 read.

“The presentation of the prosecution’s evidence-in-chief set on June 19 and 26, all at 2:00 in the afternoon shall proceed as scheduled,” the ruling from the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 said.

With this denial from the Muntinlupa court, de Lima will remain in detention during the trial of her last drug case.

Presumption of guilt

In this specific case, de Lima faces the same conspiracy to commit drug trading charge along with six others.

The court resolved the bail petition filed by de Lima and co-accused Joenel Sanchez, Franklin Bucayu, Ronnie Dayan and Jad Dera.

De Lima argued before the court that the “prosecution failed to show proof evident of the conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading between her and her co-accused.”

In weighing the petitions for bail, the court noted that the accused are facing a non-bailable case which leaves to the prosecution the burden to prove strong presumption of their guilt. Since the prosecution’s evidence is mostly testimonies, the weight will depend on the credibility and the witness’ competence, bias and manner of testifying, the court said.

“Considering the foregoing and after a careful review of the totality of prosecution’s evidence, the Court is convinced that the evidence of guilt against all the above-named accused for the crime of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading is strong,” the ruling read.

The court said that it found that the prosecution proved prima facie, or on first impression, the agreement and decision to trade illegal drug among the accused by three things: By using Bilbid inmates to sell and trade illegal drugs, evidence that Bilbid inmates; by receiving proceeds from illegal drug transactions and by raiding Bilbid while excluding inmate and co-accused Jaybee Sebastian, who died in 2020.

On the argument that the prosecution witnesses lack credibility and their testimonies have inconsistencies, the court said that it was not convinced.

“While the Court notes that indeed there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the statements of the prosecution witnesses, the same are not sufficient to discredit the credibility of their testimonies,” the ruling read.

It also held that the contention that no corroborating object such as illegal drugs or document evidence like a money trail of the payments was inconsequential.

The court however stressed: “[I]n finding the evidence of guilt strong, the Court does not in any way prejudge what the final outcome of the case will be.”

“The culpability or innocence of the accused will still be decided on the basis of all evidence presented by the parties and only after trial on the merits of the case,” it said.

Last case

This is the only remaining drug case de Lima is facing. 

De Lima has long asserted her innocence and said cases against her were politically motivated. These were filed during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, who had not hidden his disdain for the lawmaker.

The former lawmaker won her first case when she challenged the sufficiency of prosecution evidence against her.

She won her second case on the ground of reasonable doubt—this was after the star prosecution witness recanted his testimony against her and admitted he was pressured to make false allegations. But the Department of Justice has already asked the separate Muntinlupa court to reconsider its ruling that cleared de Lima in her second drug case.

De Lima earned Duterte's ire for her investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the "war on drugs," which is now the subject of an International Criminal Court investigation.

State prosecutors initially charged de Lima with drug trading, but they later amended it to accuse the senator of conspiracy to commit drug trading inside Bilibid. De Lima supposedly benefitted from illegal drug trading when she was justice secretary.

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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