An appeal to the Senate
If you’re looking for more proof that the main court cases against Sen. Leila de Lima are politicized, you won’t find it in the recent appeal made by her opposition colleagues in the Senate for her speedy release. As De Lima’s political allies from the Liberal Party and Akbayan, the three minority senators merely came to her defense again, when key witnesses testified that the former justice secretary did not do what she has been accused of doing. In fact, the joint statement of Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and Sen. Francis Pangilinan was carefully crafted to appeal to both public opinion and to the highest interest of justice—without even naming the court hearing the cases.
“The fraudulently concocted evidence against Senator Leila de Lima is crumbling. This will pave the way to her eventual exoneration and long-deserved freedom,” they said. “The testimonies of the financial investigator of AMLC and the digital forensic examiner of PDEA are crucial to the case and should be given weight as these affirm that Sen. De Lima did not conduct suspicious transactions that would link her to illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.”
According to De Lima’s counsel, Boni Tacardon, two crucial witnesses presented by the prosecution at the Oct. 23 hearing directly contradicted the prosecution’s version of events. De Lima’s office also circulated a news statement asserting that:
1) Digital forensic examiner Krystal Caseñas of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency testified that the text messages extracted from the mobile phones seized from alleged drug lords inside the New Bilibid Prison did not mention De Lima or any transaction on her behalf.
2) Financial investigator Artemio Baculi Jr. of the Anti-Money Laundering Council also testified that his investigation of the alleged drug trade inside the prison found no flow of money to De Lima or her coaccused.
These are breakthrough testimonies, by the prosecution’s own witnesses, giving the lie to the prosecution’s main argument that De Lima was engaged in a conspiracy to commit trading in illegal drugs. But they were not the only ones. Witnesses from the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and the Bureau of Corrections, all presented by the prosecution, all failed to prove the government’s argument.
On Nov. 6, a government witness gave even more dramatic testimony. According to counsel Tacardon, the convicted drug lord Vicente Sy, who had earlier claimed that he had contributed funds to De Lima’s senatorial campaign, recanted his statement under his questioning.
“Si Vicente Sy ay tumestigo noon at sinabi niya na nag-ambag daw siya ng halagang 500k para daw sa kampanya ni Senator De Lima noong 2012. Pero sa aming pagtatanong kanina, sinabi niya na kailanman ay hindi siya nagbigay ng pera kay Senator De Lima at sinabi rin niya na hindi niya kilala si De Lima (Vicente Sy testified before and he said he donated P500,000 to De Lima’s campaign in 2012. But under our questioning earlier today, he said he has never given money to Senator De Lima and he also said that he did not know De Lima).”
Sy’s use of 2012 is curious, because De Lima ran for the Senate in 2016. But that minor inconsistency should not cause us to lose focus; the import of Sy’s new testimony is consequential indeed.
After forcing De Lima to spend three years and nine months in detention, the government has failed to prove its main charge against De Lima—itself a legal abomination, because the original charge of trading in illegal drugs was changed to conspiracy to trade in illegal drugs without benefit of a new preliminary investigation.
It is now the turn of the defense to present its case. But after the prosecution’s signal failure, and the obvious “crumbling” (to quote the opposition senators again) of the “fraudulently concocted evidence” against De Lima, her earlier petitions to post bail because of the lack of evidence should be heard again.
And because she is an incumbent senator, the Senate itself should defend its institutional dignity by expressing its sense that, at the very least, bail be granted. (To strengthen its hand, however, the Senate must first reconsider its earlier decision not to allow De Lima to join its sessions through video conferencing.)
The fact that the majority senators are not, now, airing their concern that a colleague of theirs is being detained on a charge without any real evidence IS proof that the De Lima cases are politicized. Majority senators call on other units of government to meet their mission and pursue their purpose all the time; they have excoriated diplomats caught in domestic violence scandals, chided officials for their alleged overemphasis on research, even lectured their counterparts in the House on the niceties of passing a budget on time. What prevents them, any of them, from coming to the defense of De Lima—and thus of the Senate itself?
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: firstname.lastname@example.org