Several business groups urge PBBM admin to free de Lima

FILE – Philippine then opposition Senator Leila de Lima arrives at a regional trial court for a brief personal appearance Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Paranaque city southeast of Manila, Philippines. Philippine police killed three inmates, including a top Abu Sayyaf militant, after they stabbed a jail officer and briefly held a detained former opposition Senator Leila de Lima Sunday in a failed attempt to escape from the police headquarters in the capital region, police said.

SEVERAL business groups on Friday called on the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to take the necessary steps that would pave the way for the immediate release of former Senator Leila de Lima from detention.

De Lima has been in detention at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center for six years now after being charged before the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa City by the Duterte administration for allegedly benefitting in the illegal drug operations inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) during her term as justice secretary.

The call was made by the Filipa CEO Circle Justice Reform Initiative, Makati Business Club, Philippine Women’s Economic Network and Women’s Business Council Philippines.

“On the sixth anniversary of Sen. Leila de Lima’s detention, we respectfully appeal for the Marcos administration to take necessary steps to pave the way for her release based on her constitutional right to a speedy trial,” the groups said.

“We believe the justifications for her detention by the previous administration have long disappeared, as witnesses recanted their testimonies,” they added. 

De Lima’s release, according to the business groups, would restore her human rights and would help undo other human rights violations.

They also expressed belief that her release would contribute to the current administration’s bid to strengthen the economy and repair the country’s reputation before other countries.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the delegates of the European Union Parliament Parliament-Subcommittee on Human Rights inquired about the status of De Lima’s case during their meeting last Thursday.

Remulla said he told the EU lawmakers that one of the possible legal steps that the De Lima camp may avail of is the filing of habeas corpus petition, which earlier paved the way for the release of lawyer Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of then senator and now chief presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile. 

 Reyes’ petition for habeas corpus was granted by the Supreme Court recently on the ground that her nine-year detention violates   her right to speedy trial and infringes on her right to liberty.

Reyes was charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense, before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the alleged P172.8 million kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) during her stint as chief of staff of Enrile. 

Remulla noted that the Muntinlupa regional trial court had already denied her motion to post bail. 

“I told them that we offered to backchannel before but there was no response. We just want to end things properly,” Remulla.

Remulla added that the DOJ would not oppose any move by De Lima’s camp to secure her temporary liberty through legal proceedings.

Dismiss case vs de Lima, free Ronnie

The camp of De Lima, meanwhile, filed a motion before the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 204 to dismiss the case against her due to lack of evidence, and to order the release of her co-accused Ronnie Dayan.

As an alternative, De Lima’s lawyer Teddy Esteban Rigoroso asked the court to grant the former senator and Dayan their right to post bail.

The motion was filed in light of the presentation of former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Rafael Ragos as witness for Dayan.    

Ragos, who was supposed to be a witness for the prosecution, has issued an affidavit on April 30, 2022 recanting his previous testimony before the court linking De Lima and Dayan to the illegal drugs trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City during her term as justice secretary.

De Lima’s camp said Ragos’ retraction has become part of the records of the case and is now within the cognizance of the court following his presentation as witness and his cross-examination by the prosecution.

“Given her innocence, as now plainly revealed in Ragos’ April 30, 2022 affidavit, freely and voluntarily executed, affirmed in open court and subjected to, and hurdled, the crucibles of lengthy cross-examination, accused De Lima must now be spared from further inconvenience, expense, pain, anxiety and the ignominy of prolonged trial proceedings through outright dismissal of the instant case,” the 33-page motion read.”

“She suffered enough, not the least of all barely surviving a hostage-taking incident that almost cost her life,” it added.

In his affidavit of retraction, Ragos testified that he was forced and coerced by Aguirre to implicate De Lima and Dayan in the illegal drugs trade in NBP.

Ragos then claimed that De Lima and Dayan received P10 million from the proceeds of illegal drug trade inside the NBP, which he delivered to the former senator’s house in Paranaque in 2012. 

Aside from Ragos, other personalities who have recanted their statements implicating De Lima in the illegal drug trade inside NBP are self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa; Marcelo Adorco; and De Lima’s co-accused and former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.

It can be recalled that Ragos executed an affidavit on September 5, 2016 claiming that in November 2012, as BuCor officer-in-charge and together with aide Jovencio Ablen, they delivered a black bag containing P5 million to Dayan and De Lima at the latter’s residence.

He added that they made another delivery of money contained in a plastic bag in December 2012 to De Lima and Dayan.

Image credits: AP


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