De Lima hits DOJ’s refusal to transfer 11 witnesses

Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Nillicent Bautista - The Philippine Star
De Lima hits DOJ�s refusal to transfer 11 witnesses
Sen. Leila De Lima arrives at the NAIA from the US and Germany on Tuesday night.
Rudy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Former senator Leila de Lima hit back at the Department of Justice (DOJ) for blocking a Muntinlupa court’s order to return 11 inmates who testified against her to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

In a statement posted on her Facebook page on Friday, De Lima said the DOJ is only afraid that the inmates would implicate the agency for making trumped-up charges against her.

De Lima wanted the inmates to be returned to Bilibid from the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro to testify in court their willingness to recant.

“Are they afraid of the truth? Why are they blocking it? The DOJ’s refusal to transfer 11 inmate-witnesses in my last remaining drug case from Sablayan to NBP only shows the agency’s continuing attempt to stand by its former secretaries’ (Aguirre and Guevarra) bogus charges against me,” De Lima said, referring to Vitaliano Aguirre and Menardo Guevarra, both former justice secretaries.

Guevarra is the current solicitor general.

De Lima, herself a former justice secretary, said the DOJ is bent on prosecuting her despite her acquittal in two drug cases and release on bail on her last one, all of which she said were trumped-up cases filed against her by former president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Until the very last moment, this agency which I also led for five years opposed my application for bail, despite its willful and deliberate use of manufactured evidence and perjured witnesses just to sustain Duterte’s persecution cases against me,” she said.

De Lima said the DOJ wanted to hide away the witnesses in Sablayan to prevent them from fulfilling their promise to recant their testimonies against her.

She alleged that keeping the witnesses isolated is meant to “prevent them from divulging who among DOJ officials, past and present, connived and conspired to fabricate testimonies and manufacture evidence in the three drug cases Duterte filed against me.”

De Lima also described DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano’s statement on the “non-credibility of recanting witnesses” as “much-abused jurisprudence.”

On Thursday, Clavano said the DOJ opposed the transfer because it would look like a reward for the witnesses’ recantations, which he said are “always looked unfavorably, not just by the Supreme Court, but by the legal system in general.”

‘Right thing to do’

On Friday, Clavano said the DOJ is only “doing what we think is the right thing to do” in refusing to transfer the inmate-witnesses.

Judge Gener Gito of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 2016 issued a court order last Dec. 13 to transfer the 11 inmate-witnesses to the NBP from the Sablayan prison.
Seven of the witnesses – German Agojo, Tomas Doniña, Jaime Patcho, Wu Tuan Yuan, Engelberto Durano, Jerry Pepino, and Hans Anton Tan – have expressed their intention to recant their testimonies against De Lima.

Days after the order was issued, the DOJ released a statement voicing its concern about the return of the inmates to NBP.

While acknowledging the decision of the court, the DOJ discouraged the transfer, stating that most of the witnesses were convicted of heinous crimes.

“It is the position of the DOJ that any judge should refrain from involvement in decisions that could be perceived as political. Verily, the management and security of inmates fall squarely within the purview of the Bureau of Corrections,” the statement read.

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