Last Sept. 25, according to Boni Tacardon, the defense counsel of detained Sen. Leila de Lima, Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) financial investigator Artemio Baculi Jr. testified under oath that the detained senator was not involved in any suspicious transactions that would link her to the illegal drug trade she has been accused of by the Duterte administration.
The prosecution has not contested Tacardon’s claim. If true, Baculi’s testimony strikes a deadly blow to the case the administration has thrown at De Lima before Branch 205 of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.
Testifying as a witness for the prosecution, Baculi admitted that De Lima was not among those he was investigating and that there were no charges filed or forfeiture cases against the senator regarding money laundering in connection with the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
“In fact, he was not able to present any evidence that would show that there was conspiracy among the senator and the persons he was supposedly investigating for involvement in drug dealing,” said Tacardon.
Baculi also testified that his investigation showed that no money flowed from the bank accounts under investigation to either De Lima or her coaccused, Jose Adrian Dera.
De Lima is facing three separate cases of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading in alleged connivance with high-profile convicts during her term as justice secretary, the proceeds of which she supposedly used for her senatorial run in 2016.
In this particular case at Branch 205, De Lima was accused of extorting P30 million and four vehicles from convict Peter Co, coursed through Dera.
Baculi’s testimony further shows up the cases against De Lima for what many, including the international community, believe them to be — trumped-up charges in retaliation for her 2009 investigation of the Davao Death Squad when she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, and the extrajudicial killings under the war on drugs in the Senate when she became senator in 2016, all of which got the implacable goat of President Duterte.
As early as 2016, then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who led this charade, told a hearing at the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice had AMLC reports showing billions of pesos in drug money deposited in accounts belonging to De Lima.
Years later, not a shadow of these AMLC reports—much less the billions—has been seen. In a hearing at the Muntinlupa RTC on Nov. 22, 2019, around De Lima’s 1,000th day in detention, the prosecution still failed to produce the AMLC reports. A prosecutor told the hearing the reports were “still a work in progress,” leading Tacardon to remark that they were probably still “being manufactured and tailor-made’’ to suit the prosecution’s claims.
Baculi’s testimony is not the only gaping hole in the government’s case against De Lima.
Early on, Co, the convicted felon with whom De Lima was supposed to have been in conspiracy with, denied under oath that he was involved in the illegal drug trade. The prosecution failed to make Co admit that he was a drug lord, and had to present another witness.
Co was among the notorious convicts the government arrayed as witnesses against De Lima; they were later found to have been given special privileges in prison.
One of these felons — Jaybee Sebastian — recently died of COVID-19. He testified that he gave De Lima around P14 million from drug earnings inside the NBP.
But, as Tacardon recalled, Sebastian initially refused to be enlisted in the case against De Lima until a suspicious stabbing incident occurred at the NBP in 2016. Co testified as well that he and Sebastian were still recuperating from the stabbing incident (Co’s lungs were punctured) when they were “dragged and forced to testify’’ against the senator.
These developments in the cases against De Lima underline the grave injustice the opposition senator continues to endure since her detention in Camp Crame in February 2017. Two justices of the Supreme Court forcefully called out this shameful state of affairs in their dissenting opinions against the majority decision favoring Malacañang’s treatment of De Lima.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said: “The vindictive and oppressive manner by which petitioner was singled out and swiftly taken into custody is an exceptional circumstance that should have placed the courts on guard that a possible miscarriage of justice may occur.”
For his part, then senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio declared, in words that will stand as the definitive indictment of this now-unraveling case: “This Court, the last bulwark of democracy and liberty in the land, should never countenance such a fake charge. To allow the continued detention of petitioner under this Information is one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world.’’