Another witness retracts drug charges vs De Lima

PHILIPPINE STAR FILE PHOTO

ANOTHER key witness has taken back his allegations against Senator Leila M. de Lima, who has been in jail since Feb. 2017 on drug trafficking charges.

In a four-page affidavit dated April 30, former Bureau of Corrections Director General and ex-National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Deputy Director Rafael Z. Ragos claimed to have been coerced into testifying against one of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s most outspoken critics.

“There is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigatory proceedings, including the Senate and Department of Justice (DoJ),” according to a copy of his statement sent to reporters on Monday.

“I did not expect, at least at this stage… Rafael Ragos to retract his statements and testimonies implicating me in the Bilibid drug trade,” Ms. De Lima said in a statement.

“After all, he played along with my persecutors in the Duterte administration for so long I no longer hoped that he still had any remaining ounce of integrity in himself,” she said, adding that these retractions have affirmed her innocence.

Mr. Ragos had accused Ms. De Lima of accepting P5 million in drug money from him when she was still Justice secretary in 2012. She allegedly used the fund to finance her senatorial run in 2016.

The former jail official earlier claimed the money had come from convicted drug lord Peter Co.

He claimed to have been coerced by a former Justice chief into testifying against Ms. De Lima.

“Fearing for my life and my family, I had no choice but to follow everything that these people asked me to do,” he said.  “I also did not want to go to jail for fear of being the subject of acts of revenge by criminals I put in jail as an NBI official.”

“All these happened before I became secretary of justice,” Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message on Monday. “Allow me to discuss these matters with the prosecutors concerned.”

Last week, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa also recanted his statements that implicated Ms. De Lima in the illegal drug trade.

He said police had coerced him to testify against the senator during Senate hearings investigating the illegal drug trade inside the national jail when Ms. De Lima was still Justice secretary.

Mr. Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message on Friday he would discuss with a panel of prosecutors if Mr. Espinosa should be charged with perjury.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) earlier said Mr. Espinosa’s counter-affidavit “bears no weight” because he was not used as a witness against Ms. De Lima.

“It is very clear that the truth is starting to come out and the sinister plot of Rodrigo Duterte and the entire government is already revealing itself,” Dino S. de Leon, Ms. De Lima’s spokesman, told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday.

He urged the DoJ to investigate personnel within its ranks involved in the case, which he called “the greatest frame-up” in Philippine history.

“It has been more than five years since Senator Leila de Lima was imprisoned, but not even one gram of illegal drugs or one page of documentary evidence was presented against her,” Vice-President and presidential candidate Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo said in a statement in Filipino. “I am one with the belief of every Filipino in their call for justice: Free Leila now.”

Human rights lawyer and senatorial bet Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno said officials involved in the intimidation of witnesses should be held accountable.

“If Department of Justice officials can intimidate witnesses like Ragos and get away with it, what kind of justice can we expect?” he said in a statement on Monday. “If they were able to do this to an incumbent senator, what more can they do to an ordinary citizen?”

“The pattern of political persecution and trumped-up charges used against Senator De Lima is clear,” Anakpawis Party-List National Vice-President Ariel B. Casilao said in a statement in Filipino. “It is the same tactic used against activists who are victims of the fascistic movement of the Duterte regime.”

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Jose Martin M. Andanar said the government respects the independence of the court handling the case of Ms. De Lima, one of the fiercest critics of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands of suspects.

“We respect the independence of the court handling the case of Senator De Lima, particularly in evaluating the evidence presented,” he said in a statement.

“At the same time, we continue to trust the Department of Justice and the National Prosecution Service in performing their mandates in investigating and prosecuting the charges against the lady senator,” he added. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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