Another case completed; one more to go. Former Senator Leila de Lima moved closer to temporary release – and potentially full freedom – after the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 absolved her of drug charges last week. RTC Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara stated that the recantation of a crucial witness against De Lima, former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, cast “reasonable doubt” on the charge of drug conspiracy.
Ragos was initially a co-defendant with De Lima, but he was allowed to testify as a state witness. He said that while De Lima was Secretary of Justice from November 2012 to March 2013, she collected P10 million in drug payola from convicts at the New Bilibid Prison for her Senate candidacy in 2016. Ragos recanted last year, claiming he was coerced into testifying against De Lima by her successor as Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre II, an accusation Aguirre denies.
Ragos’ recantation followed those of self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa and De Lima’s driver and co-defendant Ronnie Dayan. It was the second case in which De Lima has been acquitted; another court had cleared her of a separate charge in February 2021. She is still waiting for a ruling on her bail petition in the third drug case, which is being tried by the Muntinlupa RTC’s Branch 256.
De Lima wishes to be granted interim liberty based on the strength of her defense.
If the bail petition is denied, she could pursue the tack that won Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes temporary liberty last January. The Supreme Court granted Reyes’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus after the former chief of staff of President Marcos’ chief legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile argued that her nine years in detention for plunder violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial.
De Lima has been held without bail for over six years. If she is acquitted in the third case, it will be a bittersweet victory, thanks to the injustice of snail-paced adjudication in this country.