De Lima seeks to stop drug convicts from testifying against her

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2018 11:10 AM | Updated as of Nov 26 2018 12:04 PM

The detained senator also calls DOJ’s reasoning “palusot”

Senator Leila de Lima. File

MANILA- Detained Senator Leila de Lima has again sought to stop 13 drug convicts from testifying against her over her alleged involvement in illegal drugs.

The senator, in a petition for certiorari and prohibition filed at the Court of Appeals last Nov. 19, questioned Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Judge Lorna Navarro Domingo's decision denying her plea to disqualify 13 drug convicts as state witnesses.

De Lima argued that it would be illegal to place the 13 convicts under the witness protection program since the law prevents the court from admitting convicted persons as state witnesses.

De Lima’s legal counsel Teddy Esteban Rigoroso earlier said 13 of the prosecution’s witnesses have been convicted of crimes involving "moral turpitude" and are currently serving the penalty of reclusion perpetua, making them unfit to be admitted as state witnesses.

Several of the convicts being used as witnesses were found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and sale and delivery of illegal drugs.

These witnesses include Herbert Colanggo, convicted for robbery with homicide, Peter Co, convicted for illegal sale and delivery of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, and others convicted for murder, homicide and kidnap for ransom.

All of them testified before the House justice committee hearing on the Bilibid illegal drug trade and were subsequently granted immunity.

Domingo denied De Lima’s motion, prompting the lawmaker to separately ask for the judge’s inhibition. Domingo inhibited on November 5 but insisted she ruled correctly.

In her petition, De Lima argued Domingo cannot just brush aside the provisions of the Witness Protection Security and Benefits Program law by saying it is up to the DOJ to determine the qualifications of state witnesses.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has denied admitting convicts into the witness protection program.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City since February 2017 as she faced trial for her alleged involvement in the drug trade inside the national penitentiary when she was still justice secretary.

NOT 'STATE WITNESSES' BUT IMMUNE FROM CHARGES?

De Lima also hit the DOJ’s contention that the convicts are not being considered as state witnesses but as ordinary witnesses.

“The DOJ Panel of Prosecutors, which represents Respondent People in the proceedings before the court a quo, is not being candid on the status of the thirteen (13) criminal convicts as witnesses under the WPSBP. They maintain that the thirteen (13) criminal convicts are ordinary witnesses, but they cannot deny the fact that the criminal convicts were granted immunity under Sec. 12 of RA 6981,” she said.

Section 12 refers to state witnesses who are granted immunity from prosecution.

In contrast, De Lima argued, ordinary witnesses are not entitled to immunity.

The senator cited the DOJ’s own joint resolution dated February 14, 2017 which stated that no drugs charges will be filed against Co, Hans Anton Tan, Collango, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy and Jojo Baligad because they were granted immunity and will be used as state witnesses under section 12 of the WPSBP law.

Guevarra had earlier told the media that no convicted person has been used a state witness under Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.

Under that rule, a state witness refers to a person who has been charged with an offense but is later discharged so he/she can testify. Since the convicts were not included in the complaint, they are not considered state witnesses, Guevarra said, echoing the ruling of Domingo in denying De Lima’s motion.

De Lima however argued there is another way of becoming a state witness: under the WPSBP law, the DOJ can exclude a state witnesses from the criminal complaint it will file.

“[P]recisely, they were not included in the information and can no longer be the subject of discharge by the court under Sec. 17, Rule 119 because they were already excluded from the information as state witnesses by the DOJ itself pursuant to sec. 12 of RA 6981,” she said.

“This is not even brilliant obfuscation. It is simply disingenuous argumentation, what we call in the vernacular as a “palusot,” she added.

Aside from the CA petition, De Lima had also filed criminal cases before the Office of the Ombudsman against Guevarra and former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II over their decision to admit the convicts as state witnesses.

-report from Dexter Ganibe and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News