De Lima to RTC: Summon witnesses who gave false testimony

Nillicent Bautista - The Philippine Star
De Lima to RTC: Summon witnesses who gave false testimony
Former senator Leila de Lima raises her hand as she shouted "I'm free" upon her release from the custodial facility in Camp Crame, Quezon City on November 13, 2023.
STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Former senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday asked a Muntinlupa court to summon the seven witnesses who claimed they were coerced to make false testimony against her.

De Lima earlier received a handwritten letter from the seven witnesses dated Nov. 17, expressing their intention to recant their testimonies against her “in the intent of truth and justice.”

It was signed by witnesses German Agojo, Tomas Doniña, Jaime Patcho, Wu Tuan Yuan, Engelberto Durano, Jerry Pepino and Hans Anton.

“We would like to state that our participation as witnesses in the drug cases against former Department of Justice secretary De Lima was vitiated by undue compulsion and influence,” the letter read.

“We faced unimaginable threats to our lives as the only choice we had then was to testify against the good senator,” it added.

The witnesses, who are currently detained in Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm, also requested their immediate transfer for their “safety and security” as well as their families.

The handwritten letter was attached to De Lima’s manifestation filed before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 207.

In the four-page document, De Lima asked the court to confirm the “authenticity and truthfulness” of the claims of the seven witnesses.

She also asked the RTC to transfer the inmates from Sablayan Prison to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City for their safety and security.

Two other state witnesses – Maj. Rodolfo Magdeo and Sgt. Nonilo Arile – also recanted their testimonies against the former senator last October.

De Lima, who was freed on bail, is currently facing the third and last drug case against her involving the illegal drug trade in NBP during her time as the justice secretary.

Meanwhile, former presidential spokesman Harry Roque and former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre yesterday said heavier sentences should be imposed against witnesses who recant their testimonies.

During the Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Roque said De Lima should confirm that Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 Judge Gener Gito, who granted her petition to post bail for her third and last drug case, was her former student at San Beda College.

At the same time, Roque said that heavier penalties should be imposed against witnesses who committed perjury after seven more inmates recanted their testimonies against De Lima.

“It sends a wrong signal to the public when a witness recants his testimony after he took his oath… The message it gives is it is OK to tell a lie inside the court,” Roque said, adding that at present, an imprisonment of six months is imposed for those who commit perjury.

For his part, Aguirre said the Supreme Court already ruled that the court should dismiss the recantation of a witness.

“The court said that the recantation should not be given weight and should instead be penalized,” he said, while also alleging that those who withdraw their testimonies did so out of “financial consideration.” – Bella Cariaso

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