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A Moral Victory, De Lima Says After Being Acquitted In One Of Three Drug Cases

A Moral Victory, De Lima Says After Being Acquitted In One Of Three Drug Cases
On Feb. 24, 2017, opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, center, is escorted to her detention facility at Camp Crame in Quezon City a day after a warrant for her arrest was issued on what she claimed were trumped up illegal drug charges. Photo by AP

A court in Muntinlupa City acquitted Sen. Leila de Lima on Wednesday, Feb. 17, in one of the three drug-related charges filed against her under the Duterte administration.

In her omnibus order, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence, or a motion to dismiss a case due to lack of evidence.

Aquiatan said De Lima’s petition for bail has been rendered moot and academic, or no longer relevant, as the grant of the demurrer was “tantamount to her acquittal.”

The court's decision to grant de Lima's motion would strengthen her claim that she was not involved in illegal drug trade as argued in the two other drug cases, her lawyers said.

De Lima, who was arrested on Feb. 24, 2017 or a day after the warrant against her was issued, welcomed the decision on her Criminal Case No. 17-166.  In this case, De Lima was accused of influencing high-profile inmate Peter Co and extorting money from him.

Co was allegedly able to produce P30 million and four vehicles that were given to De Lima through her co-accused Jose Adrian Dera alias Jad de Vera. This allegedly happened in March 2016.

“To be acquitted even in just one case, in the time of (President) Duterte, is a moral victory,” De Lima said in a statement posted on her social media accounts.

However, Aquiatan denied the demurrer filed by Dera. This meant that the trial of his drug case would continue, with his camp presenting evidence.

Meanwhile, Aquiatan denied another demurrer to evidence filed by De Lima and her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan in another drug case handled by the same court.

The hearings will continue, with both the camps of De Lima and Dayan set to present their evidence starting March 5.

De Lima has not filed a demurrer before the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256, which handles one more drug case, as the Department of Justice is yet to finish its presentation of prosecution witnesses, according to her lawyers.

The DOJ accused De Lima of conspiring with inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) who were drug lords to pool funds for her senatorial campaign in 2016 while she was justice secretary. She allegedly sent Dera and Dayan to collect millions worth of funds from the illegal drug trade by the NBP inmates.

De Lima said despite the junking of the demurrer to evidence and motion for bail related to Criminal Case No. 17-165, she and her lawyers believe that the government’s evidence against her is weak and that the charges were fabricated.

The senator noted the case against her was conspiracy to engage in illegal drug trading but during the hearings, no evidence came out to prove this.

She said not one witness testified that she and her co-accused conspired with alleged drug lords sell drugs inside the NBP.

In fact, De Lima noted the witnesses denied they were drug lords and that they did not have any link or illegal transaction with her and that they did not personally know the charges against her.

Ito lang din ang katangi-tanging mga kaso tungkol sa droga na kahit isang butil o gramo ng droga, ay walang naipresenta. Ibig sabihin, puro laway lang ang basehan,” De Lima stressed.

De Lima said this case exposed the rampant corruption at the NBP under former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos.

De Lima and Ragos allegedly extorted money from NBP inmates but the senator emphasized that it was the former BuCor chief who was taking bribes so the prisoners could enjoy privileges, which she was able to stop.

Wala ring napatunayang pera, ni isang kusing, na napunta sa akin mula sa bentahan ng ilegal na droga. Puro tsismis. Puro haka-haka lang,” De Lima said.

She added they would study the decision of the court on Criminal Case No. 165 and file a motion for reconsideration.

De Lima maintained the charges against her were meant to silence her for being a staunch critic of the administration.

But she said she continues to file bills and pursue her advocacies, especially on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

“To jail one innocent person – whoever they may be – is an insult to every Filipino who deserves a better government, and an assault on the future of our country,” De Lima insisted.