'Clear absence of sufficient admissible evidence': De Lima moves for bail in 2nd drug case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 14 2020 06:20 PM

Sen. Leila De Lima is escorted by police as she emerges from her hearing at the Muntinlupa Trial court, Nov. 16, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima has moved to post bail in the second of her 3 drug cases before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.

“The record will show the clear absence of any ‘sufficient admissible’ evidence, much less ‘strong’ evidence, that will support her alleged guilt,” said the senator’s motion electronically filed on Wednesday.

De Lima is accused of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison along with her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan when she was still justice secretary, supposedly to raise funds for her then senatorial bid.

Two payments of P5 million each were allegedly delivered to Dayan in November and December 2012.

But in her 138-page motion, De Lima asserted that not one of the 17 witnesses the prosecution has presented so far claimed to have personal knowledge that she took part in the supposed conspiracy.

She said the 2 private complainants who filed the case -- former Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chair Dante Jimenez and former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy director Reynaldo Esmeralda -- admitted that they only based their complaint on what they heard during congressional hearings.

Esmeralda was removed by De Lima in his NBI post while Jimenez was later on appointed head of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).

Even the NBI agents who conducted a December 2014 NBP raid with De Lima and retired police general and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said they had not received any report about De Lima’s alleged involvement in the drug trade while the bank accounts and transactions were not linked to the senator, according to the motion.

The senator also said the convicts who testified against her – Nonilo Arile, Hans Anton Tan and Peter Co – neither claimed participation nor personal knowledge of the illegal drug trade.

Based on transcripts of testimonies, Tan said Jaybee Sebastian, supposedly ordered by Dayan, instructed him to hand over 2 bags of money to Tony Co.

But both Sebastian and Tony Co are already dead. Sebastian died due to COVID-19 in July this year while Tony Co was stabbed to death inside the NBP in September 2016.

Peter Co, who executed an affidavit and testified in Congress after he was stabbed in Bilibid, revealed in court that the alleged deliveries of money was not for De Lima but for former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and other officials.

The money was supposedly in exchange for “special requests” such as lavish “kubols” (villas) and entry of goods and services like bands, dancers and liquor inside the maximum security compound – none of which involved illegal drugs.

RAGOS

Ragos was initially charged but was dropped from the case when the information was amended, having been admitted to the DOJ’s witness protection program.

De Lima objected to Ragos’ exclusion from the case saying a law enforcement official is not qualified to be granted immunity and the alleged offense could not have been committed without Ragos’ participation in supposedly demanding money from the inmates.

Ragos claimed he received money from convict Tan and upon Tan’s instructions delivered these on 2 occasions to De Lima’s house in Parañaque together with his subordinate, NBI intelligence Agent Jovencio Ablen, supposedly as her share in the illegal drug trade.

But De Lima’s lawyers pointed out that Ragos never mentioned this in his original affidavit executed in December 2016 where he also denied any drug dealings inside the NBP or any conspiracy with De Lima.

At various points, Ragos would admit to delivering the money but denied knowledge as to the source and later on fully acknowledged the money came from certain Bilibid inmates supposedly for De Lima’s campaign.

“Based on the progressively clearer details he keeps on remembering and adding – as the charge against him progressed from the investigation in aid of legislation before the House of Representatives, to the filing of a criminal complaint for illegal drug trading in court – it is apparent that he has been progressively tailor-fitting his testimony in order to obtain the most beneficial terms in his favor, ultimately resulting in: (1) his discharge as a co-accused; and (b) his reinstatement to the NBI after being detailed to the Public Attorney’s Office,” the motion said.

Magalong, a prosecution witness, also testified that they received information that Ragos allegedly received payolas from high profile drug personalities, and went to the extent of calling him “dirty.”

Ablen’s affidavit said Ragos designated him to receive money from the NBP caterer, special requests from inmates, money from visitors and weekly “tara” from inmates, which Ragos himself admitted in his own affidavit.

Ragos was reinstated as NBI deputy director in December 2019 and retired this year.

SOJ REACTION

In a statement, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it was De Lima’s “prerogative” to post bail.

“But note that she is facing 3 drug-related cases, all of which are non-bailable,” he said.

He earlier faulted De Lima for not applying for bail.

Although the drug charges against De Lima are non-bailable as a matter of right, the rules allow De Lima to post bail if the evidence is not strong.

De Lima had earlier questioned the change in the charge from “illegal sale of dangerous drugs” when it was filed in February 2017 to “attempt or conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading” in November 2017.

This case led to the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the senator by Judge Juanito Guerrero.

De Lima filed her first motion for bail with the same court, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 in June this year.