The road to vindication

“Conspiracy must be established not by conjecture but by positive and conclusive evidence”

In a 39-page decision released on May 12, the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 cleared former senator Leila De Lima and Ronnie Dayan in Criminal Case Number 17-165 for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading – the first case filed against the former lawmaker.

In this specific case, De Lima was accused of receiving P10 million, in two tranches, from former corrections chief Rafael Ragos.

The money supposedly came from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

The decision stated although the prosecution was able to sufficiently establish the existence of rampant illegal drug trading at the NBP, however, both the accused (Leila De Lima and Ronnie Dayan) were charged as conspirators to illegal drug trading.

As such the prosecution must further establish conspiracy with the direct participants in the illegal drug trade.

Conspiracy must be established not by conjecture but by positive and conclusive evidence.

Each of the accused must be shown to have performed at least an overt act in pursuance or furtherance of the conspiracy.

In this case, the overt act specifically alleged against both accused was the act of receiving delivery of proceeds from the illegal drug trading amounting to P5M on November 24, 2012 and another P5M on December 15, 2012.

To establish this overt act, the prosecution presented two witnesses: Deputy Director Ragos and Ablen, who both testified that they personally delivered the money to accused De Lima and Dayan.

The court noted that recantations of testimony are generally “viewed with suspicion and reservation” since these can be secured through intimidation or for money and could later on also be repudiated.

However, according to the court, the subsequent recantation by Ragos casts reasonable doubt on the credibility of his testimony.

Without his testimony, the crucial link to establish conspiracy is shrouded with reasonable doubt which warrants the acquittal of both the accused.

In his sworn affidavit dated April 30, 2022, Ragos recanted earlier testimony he had given to the court in which he alleged he delivered money to de Lima from drug lords.

His testimony paved the way for filing the cases against the senator in 2017. Ragos said his testimony was false and coerced “upon the instructions of Secretary Aguirre,” referring to Duterte’s justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre II.

In exchange for his false testimony, Ragos said he was dropped as a respondent in the same case and turned into a witness.

In a television interview, a teary-eyed Ragos apologized to de Lima.

“My apologies. My heart is heavy that I aggrieved another person,” he said in Tagalog.

We also recall that Kerwin Espinosa, a confessed drug lord, made the earliest recantation when he stated he had no dealings with the accused; that he was “only coerced, pressured, intimated, and seriously threatened by the police” during Senate hearings in November and December 2016.

One of the three cases, 17-166, was dismissed by a Muntinlupa court in February 2021 when it granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence, which was “tantamount to her acquittal,” according to the judge’s decision.

De Lima’s acquittal means the former senator is now facing only one more charge since another Muntinlupa court already cleared her in one of the three charges in 2021.

Her acquittal also means her release from detention is just around the corner.

She still has to wait for Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256’s decision on whether to allow her to post bail.

The former Senator and Department of Justice Secretary has been in detention for around six years now, or since February 24, 2017, on drug-related charges.

“That’s already two cases down, and one more to go. I am of course happy that with this second acquittal in the three cases filed against me, my release from more than six years of persecution draws nearer,” the elated De Lima said in a statement.

Personally, as a collaborating defense counsel and as the founding President of the Movement Against Disinformation (MAD), I am happy with this latest development.

But as a lawyer and an advocate for justice, I do have to ask the obvious question: Why did Senator De Lima stay this long in detention only to be found innocent?

I do reiterate the statement of MAD: “We, the Movement Against Disinformation, Inc. (MAD), express our utmost gratitude and relief with the acquittal of Former Senator Leila De Lima in one of the trumped up charges against her today in the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa City.

“This decision is a testament for fairness, equity, and credibility of our judiciary and its fealty to the Rule of Law.

“We look to the day that all the other cases against her are resolved, and so she could walk free and rejoin the ranks of advocates and truth-tellers.

“MAD together with Former Senator De Lima shall persist in the battle for truth, justice, and the Rule of Law.”

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