Look into the duress that convicts were put through in De Lima case
There has been a lot of kerfuffle over a ruling in the last of the three drug cases against Leila de Lima by a new trial judge who overturned a finding of “strong evidence of guilt.” The previous trial judge denied her bail and later inhibited himself due to his family ties with a lawyer who was said to have taken part in the preparation of those cases by the Department of Justice (DOJ) then under Vitaliano Aguirre II, an appointee of former president Rodrigo Duterte whose hostility toward De Lima was public knowledge.
Article III, Section 13 of the Constitution provides that all persons are entitled to bail before conviction, unless they are charged with a capital offense (like drug trafficking) and the “evidence of guilt is strong.” The new ruling has set De Lima free for the time being as the case continues to be tried on the merits.
While the huge pivot was not exactly based on that “family relationship” or any perception of bias on the part of the previous judge as urged by De Lima’s motion for reconsideration, the new judge went for the jugular and turned the DOJ’s case on its head: the recantations/retractions of its own prisoners/witnesses who now claimed they were forced to swear to and affix their signatures to the pre-fabricated statements. Duterte’s former mouthpieces, lawyers Salvador Panelo and Harry Roque, have unabashedly gone to town excoriating that ruling, citing Supreme Court decisions that “frown upon recantations” and are dismissive of the same outright for being unreliable.
The almost doctrinal rulings churned out by the Supreme Court on the matter fortify common sense: “A recantation of a testimony is exceedingly unreliable, for there is always the probability that such recantation may later on be itself repudiated. Courts look with disfavor upon retractions, because they can easily be obtained from witnesses through intimidation or for monetary consideration. Like any other testimony, it is subject to the test of credibility based on the relevant circumstances … [Thus, a] retraction does not necessarily negate an earlier declaration” (People v. Nardo, 405 Phil 826; People v. Espenilla, G.R. No. 192253). “Indeed, jurisprudence is replete with instances where the recantation of testimony by the rape victim herself was not accepted by the Court when her previous testimony appeared more trustworthy and believable.” (People v. Teodoro, G.R. No. 175876, among a litany of cases of the same genre.)
Veritably, recantations or retractions are quite common in this jurisdiction, more ubiquitously in rape cases. But observers are truly flummoxed at the temerity with which Panelo and Roque have invoked the same doctrine and compared the prisoners/witnesses who retracted in spite of all anticipation of severe reprisals from the powers that be at that time with the rape victims who recant because of “intimidation or monetary consideration.”
As the Supreme Court has also stressed, “circumstances” do matter in evaluating the trustworthiness of recantations. Shouldn’t Panelo and Roque be addressing the “duress” those drug convicts said they were put under when they signed their first sworn statements, rather than just pounding the table on the Supreme Court’s “frown”?