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Economy

Top Duterte critic insists drug charges against her fabricated

SENATOR Leila de Lima listening to a police officer who served the warrant for her arrest at the Senate grounds in Pasay City on Feb. 24, 2017.

ONE of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s most vocal critics on Sunday said the government had fabricated the drug trafficking charges against her to shut her out, after four witnesses retracted their charges against her.

“The fact that all of this is coming out as Duterte’s term ends indicates that the Duterte administration’s cases against me are purely manufactured and fabricated in order to persecute, destroy and silence me,” Senator Leila M. de Lima, 62, said in a statement.

The Justice department, which will have a new chief chosen by incoming President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., has said it would review evidence against Ms. De Lima.

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, a Duterte appointee, on Saturday said the review would take a few days.

“The prosecution needs to reassess the strength of its overall evidence in the light of the retractions of certain witnesses,” he said. “If the prosecution believes that such recantations do not affect its case, then the prosecution will maintain its course.”

The drug charges against Ms. De Lima started after she led a Senate investigation of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands.

As head of the Commission on Human Rights, she also probed the assassination of suspected drug pushers by the so-called Davao Death Squad, allegedly upon the orders of Mr. Duterte when he was still the city mayor.

In April, self-confessed drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa took back his testimony implicating Ms. De Lima in illegal drugs when she was still Justice secretary.

“Any statement I made against the senator is false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to my life and family members,” he said in an affidavit submitted to the Justice department.

He claimed to have been coerced by police into testifying against Ms. De Lima during Senate hearings investigating the illegal drug trade inside the national jail when the senator was still Justice secretary. He apologized to the senator for linking her to the illegal drug trade.

Days later, former Bureau of Corrections Director General and ex-National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Rafael Z. Ragos took back his allegations that Ms. De Lima had received P5 million in drug money from him — care of convicted drug lord Peter Co — when she was still Justice secretary in 2012. She allegedly used the fund to finance her senatorial bid in 2016. 

Another witness, Joel Capones, testified at Ms. De Lima’s bail hearing in a Muntinlupa trial court that he did not have knowledge of drug money worth P1.4 million she had allegedly pocketed.

On May 24, Marcelo L. Adorco said he had been coerced into implicating the senator and other people in the illegal drug trade.   

“The truth is, I was only forced to sign my previous affidavit which accused these people of being involved in illegal drugs because I feared for my life and safety,” he said in a statement.

He said a former high-ranking police officer had forced him to sign affidavits in 2016 and 2017, which said Ms. De Lima and Espinosa had met up in Baguio City.

“The affidavit was written by a police officer in a police station in Albuera, Leyte, by the orders of the former chief of the Albuera police,” Mr. Adorco said.

Ms. De Lima has asserted her innocence, saying she was being prosecuted for criticizing Mr. Duterte’s drug war.

Human Rights Watch has said Ms. De Lima has suffered five years in detention for a crime that key witnesses now dispute. “The authorities should immediately drop the politically motivated charges and release her, and impartially investigate the witnesses’ claims that they were coerced to give false testimony,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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