The conviction of detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima “appears inevitable,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Friday.
This is unless De Lima would be able to convincingly refute the evidence presented by the Department of Justice accusing her of conspiracy to commit illegal drugs trading inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City when she was still Justice secretary, Guevarra said.
“In denying senator De Lima’s demurrer to evidence, the trial judge concluded that, unless rebutted, the prosecution’s evidence is sufficient to convict the accused,” he said in a text message to reporters.
Guevarra made the statement after Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 205 earlier denied the separate demurrer to evidence of De Lima and her co-accused Ronnie Dayan.
A demurrer to evidence is a plea to dismiss a case based on weak evidence presented by the prosecution.
The court also junked the petition for bail by De Lima and Dayan, who are accused of conspiring and confederating with each other to commit illegal drugs trading, particularly violation of Section 26 (b) in relation to Section 5, Section 3 (jj), and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The denial of the demurrer to evidence paves the way for the court’s reception of the defense evidence to refute the allegations and testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on March 5, 2021.
“In denying the senator’s petition for bail, the trial court found that the evidence against the accused is strong,” Guevarra stressed.
“The burden of proof now shifts to the defense. If the accused is unable to overcome the prima facie finding of guilt, the outcome appears inevitable,” said the DOJ chief, implying confidence that the evidence against De Lima and Dayan is so strong to secure a guilty verdict. Rey E. Requejo
In the 35-page ruling dated February 17, 2021 denying her plea to dismiss the case, Judge Aquiatan relied on the testimonies of former Bureau of Corrections acting chief Rafael Ragos and agent Jun Ablen, who both testified to personally delivering P10 million to De Lima in her home.
Ragos and Ablen said they handed the money to Dayan, and then saw Dayan hand the money to De Lima.
Judge Aquiatan said that while De Lima denied that she was the one who personally received the money, she “did not investigate the source” of the money, nor did she return it.
The judge said it is imperative for both De Lima and Dayan to explain the alleged receipt of the money, and for De Lima to explain why the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), as well as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), were excluded in an Oplan Galugad.
The trial court judge stressed the need for De Lima to explain why high-profile convicts were able to keep special privileges, and why drug trading continued in Bilibid.
“These facts, if unrebutted, the same is prima facie sufficient to support a verdict of guilt against the accused,” Aquiatan said.
In a separate ruling, the judge granted De Lima’s other demurrer to evidence in Case Number 17-166, which means she has been acquitted of the illegal drug charges in that case.
However, the court denied the plea for demurrer of her co-accused in this case, a certain Jad Dera. The judge allowed Dera to post bail worth P500,000.
Last Tuesday, prosecution witness Joel D. Capones stood by his testimony that he witnessed alleged drug lord Jaybee Sebastian hand over to De Lima, who was then Justice Secretary, P1.4 million in drug money at the former’s so-called “Bahay na Bato” inside the NBP sometime in March 2014.
Subjected to a grueling two-hour long cross examination by De Lima’s defense counsel, Capones admitted that in December 2013, fellow NBP inmate Sebastian asked him to engage in illegal drug trading inside and out of the NBP to raise funds to support the senatorial bid of De Lima.
Capones confessed that he indeed transacted illegal drugs or shabu to heed with the directive of Sebastian because he was convinced and impressed with the latter’s apparent strong influence with the previous administration, particularly with De Lima.
The witness has reaffirmed before the court the contents of his three-page affidavit, where he alleged that one time in 2014, Sebastian summoned him to his booth to bring in the money that the latter intended to give to Sec. De Lima.
“Wala na po ako magawa kundi sundin ang sinabi ni Jaybee na magbenta ng droga sa Bilibid dahil maimpluwensya po sya sa NBP,” Capones told the court presided over by Judge Romeo S. Buenaventura.
Capones narrated that on March 5, 2014, during the anniversary of the Commando Sigue-Sigue organization, he delivered the amount of P1.4 million to Sebastian as quota payment of the shabu drugs that he sold.
He said the delivery was at Sebastian’s “bahay na bato” inside the NBP. During the delivery, he said he saw De Lima go to the same place to meet Sebastian.
Capones recalled that he personally witnessed Sebastian hand over to De Lima the P1.4 million that he gave to the alleged drug lord and heard him saying, “Ma’am eto na po ang pera.”
Testifying on direct examination, Capones, at that instance, confirmed that De Lima has the imprimatur of the drug dealings inside and outside of the Bureau of Corrections facility.
The DOJ prosecutors led by Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Bienvenido Ocampo Jr. confirmed Capones’ testimony before the court, including the P1.4 million drug money allegedly received by De Lima from Sebastian when she met with the alleged drug lord at the inmate’s “bahay na bato” inside the NBP.
Sebastian already pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal drug trading inside the NBP.
In his July 2020 affidavit, Sebastian confessed that he facilitated the delivery of P5 million between convicted drug lord Peter Co and then-Justice Secretary De Lima through then-Bureau of Corrections Officer in Charge Rafael Ragos on 2 occasions in November and December 2012.
Sebastian also admitted in his July 2020 affidavit that De Lima’s aide Joenel Sanchez asked him to help De Lima raise funds for her candidacy in the 2013 senatorial elections, upon the instructions of Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former bodyguard.
Before he was formally introduced as witness against De Lima, Sebastian, who confessed running the illegal drug trade in the NBP supposedly to raise funds for De Lima’s then senatorial bid, died on July 18, 2020 reportedly due to COVID-19.
De Lima is currently detained at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame. Rey E. Requejo