Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla is being inhuman in insisting that the government would not oppose the bail petition of former senator Leila De Lima only if it is based on humanitarian grounds — not for lack of evidence.
Being a humanitarian means showing compassion, being conscious of her circumstances and easing her suffering. But taking it against De Lima for asserting her innocence and seeking bail based on lack of evidence is far from being sympathetic.
The Justice department even asked a Muntinlupa court to reopen the trial in one of its remaining cases, which had been submitted for decision and the promulgation of judgment set for May 12.
Remulla said the prosecution should be allowed to provide rebuttal evidence in connection with the testimony of former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) deputy director Rafael Ragos, who has recanted his testimony against De Lima.
The case involves alleged violations of Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act in which De Lima is alleged to have extorted money from New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates through Ragos and her former aide, Ronnie Dayan, to fund her Senate bid in 2016.
In recanting his testimony against De Lima in May 2022, Ragos said he was coerced by former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who was appointed by then president Rodrigo Duterte, to execute affidavits implicating the former senator in the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary and that he received “threats of being detained” should he fail to cooperate. Aguirre has denied Ragos’ statement.
In February 2021, a Muntinlupa court acquitted De Lima on one of the three charges of conspiracy to commit drug trading. In that case, the former senator was accused of extorting P30 million and four vehicles from high-profile inmate Peter Co in 2016.
In the second case that is still pending, De Lima was charged for allegedly tolerating the “widespread drug trade” inside the maximum security compound from May 2013 to May 2015. This has a pending petition for bail which has been set for decision on May 8.
The 63-year-old De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City for more than six years since Feb. 24, 2017, for what her lawyers and supporters maintain to be trumped-up charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading inside the NBP when she was Justice secretary.
The charges were based on testimonies of drug convicts who were placed under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) by Aguirre, her successor at the DoJ.
De Lima was a respected lawyer before her appointment in 2008 as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights. In 2017, Duterte called her an “immoral woman” allegedly for having an affair with Dayan, her driver-bodyguard who allegedly served as her collector of drug protection money when she was the Justice secretary in Benigno Aquino III administration.
Three key government witnesses have retracted their allegations linking De Lima to illegal drugs and have since admitted that their testimonies were false and that they had been coerced into testifying against her.
In October last year, De Lima was held hostage inside her detention cell by Feliciano Sulayao Jr., another detainee who was accused of being a subleader of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. This showed lapses in the security for the former senator.
When Remulla took over the helm of the DoJ in July 2022, he vowed to reexamine the cases against De Lima following the recantation of the key witnesses. But he kept his hands off a resolution in the Senate seeking the former senator’s release from detention.
He then said that the Muntinlupa Trial Court has sole power and authority to act on the pending cases against De Lima.
Remulla now turns out to be among De Lima’s tormentors. Has he found that the cases against De Lima are weak, that’s why he was afraid that the court would set her free for lack of evidence? That, for sure, is not showing humanitarian reasons to allow her temporary freedom while the remaining two cases against her are on trial.
Moving to reopen one case and threatening to block her bail petition is far from being compassionate to a former senator and former chairman of the Commission on Human Rights. That is prolonging an injustice when its end appears to be drawing near.
The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.