Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday filed a resolution seeking the release of former Senator Leila de Lima from “unjust and arbitrary detention”—a move immediately shot down by the Department of Justice.
De Lima has been detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame over what the former senator maintained as “trumped-up drug charges”by the Duterte administration.
The opposition bloc senators also called on the DOJ to drop the remaining charges against De Lima.
But in a statement, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the department is leaving it up to the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Courts, where the cases against De Lima are still pending, to make its decision.
The drug cases are still pending before Muntinlupa City RTC Branches 204 and 256.
“In the last part of the resolution, we are asking the DOJ to withdraw the drug charges against De Lima and free her,” Pimentel and Hontiveros said, citing the recantation of three primary witnesses in the illegal drug charges against their fellow opposition lawmaker.
The resolution filed on July 14 enumerates the experience of the former senator in the past five years.
Hontiveros also divulged that a woman senator from the majority block informed her and Pimentel on Monday of joining them as co-author of the measure, but did not reveal her identity.
“Reacting to the Resolution filed by Senators (Aquilino) ‘Koko’ Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla declared that the matter is already within the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa Trial Court, which has the sole power and authority to act on the pending case against former Senator de Lima,” said Jose Dominic Clavano, from the Office of the DOJ Secretary.
“Based on records, (Rafael) Ragos has not been presented by the defense as a witness before the Muntinlupa Court. Hence, the Department will rely on the sound discretion of the court on the appreciation of this alleged evidence,” Clavano added.
Before he formally assumed the post as DOJ Chief, Remulla had said he was willing to look into the drug cases against De Lima, citing the reports of prosecution witnesses withdrawing their testimonies against the former senator were already a “red flag.”
Earlier, Ragos alleged he was coerced by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to implicate De Lima in the illegal drugs trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
However, Aguirre denied Ragos’ accusation, citing that the former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge gave the same testimony under oath and continued giving the same testimony even after he was no longer the Justice Secretary.
Aguirre served as DOJ Secretary under the Duterte government from July 1, 2016 until April 5, 2018.
Ragos testified on Sept. 20, 2016 and Oct. 10, 2016 before the House of Representatives and at the Senate. He also testified before a Muntinlupa City court on June 7, 14, 28 and July 12 of year 2019.
In the proposed Senate Resolution 27, Pimentel and Hontiveros cited the retraction of testimonies by key witnesses Kerwin Espinosa, Ragos, and Ronnie Dayan in De Lima’ drug cases.
“With these series of recantations, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Senator de Lima’s arrest and continued unjust detention was nothing more than a carefully orchestrated ploy to silence an outspoken critic and passionate human rights advocate,” read the resolution.
Despite De Lima’s detention, the two senators said she remained productive in authoring several bills and resolutions and a handful of them have been enacted into law such as the 4Ps Act, Magna Carta of the Poor, National Commission of Senior Citizens Act, and the Community-Based Monitoring System.
“The DOJ, under its current leadership, should seriously consider these retractions and immediately withdraw all pending drug charges against [former] Senator de Lima and move for her release from detention thereby redeeming itself to the Filipino people and proving that its institutional integrity remains intact by standing up for truth, justice, and the rule of law,” the minority senators said.
“Every day that justice is not served amounts to a mockery of the whole justice system. It is thus incumbent upon the Senate to call on its co-equal branches of the government to be true to their mandates of ensuring that justice is served without passion or prejudice, and always with fairness,” they added. Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo