De Lima camp wants to haul Aquino, Bato, Aguirre to trial

MANILA, Philippines – The camp of detained senator Leila De Lima said on Friday, February 1, that they want to call as witnesses former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon said they will use Aquino as a character witness, and Dela Rosa and Aguirre to explain to the court reports of bribing inmates and other justice department employees to pin down the senator.

“We want to present him (Aquino) to prove na at all times material sa kaso na ‘to, there was no issue or even a rumor that would involve Senator De Lima sa drug trading. Because if he knows, kung meron talagang ganyan, he would have taken action against the secretary,” Tacardon said.

(We want to present him to prove that at all times where this case is material, there was no issue or even rumor that would involve Senator De Lima in drug trading. Because if he knows, if there really was such a thing, he would have taken action against the secretary.)

De Lima is charged with 3 counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drugs for allegedly allowing drug lords inside the New Bilibid Prison to continue drug trading to get commissions to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign. De Lima as former justice secretary oversaw the Bureau of Corrections. 

On Dela Rosa, Tacardon said: “Si General Bato has been quoted several times in the newspaper na tinatakot yung mga witnesses. Marami siyang sinabi regarding sa mga inmates na ‘to na sa tingin namin at assessment namin na-pressure yung mga inmates to testify against Senator De Lima. So we want him to explain that in court.”

(General Bato has been quoted several times in the newspaper as having threatened witnesses. He said a lot of things that in our assessment resulted in the inmates being pressured to testify against De Lima. So we want him to explain that in court.)

Aguirre was also a vocal accuser of De Lima. In a complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, De Lima accused Aguirre of coercing employees of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to throw dirt at the senator.

Other accusers

Tacardon said they have also requested the court to invite other De Lima accusers such as Sandra Cam and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio Jr.

Supreme Court oral arguments revealed that Cam went to the New Bilbid prison to talk to inmate Jaybee Sebastian, an interview that Solicitor General Jose Calida also did inside the national jail with Sebastian.

Topacio and his group, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), were among the complainants against De Lima. This led to the 3 charges filed against her before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.

De Lima was finally arraigned on her 3rd and last charge, where she again refused to enter a plea. The court had to enter a not guilty plea on her behalf.

"How can I plead to something that is bogus, fabricated, trumped-up? I'm not at all recognizing the validity or legitimacy of this trial. I cannot, Your Honor,” De Lima told Judge Liezel Aquiatan.

Aquiatan is new to the drug charges. Due to a reshuffle at the Muntinlupa RTC, Aquiatan now presides over Branch 205 which handles two of the 3 drug charges.

Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo, who gave the green light to the convicts standing as witnesses – an issue that De Lima has brought up both to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals, has inhibited.

As a result, the 3rd charge was transferred to Branch 256 presided over by Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz, who had previously handled the De Lima cases.

De Lima’s cases have been passed over multiple times at the Muntinlupa RTC, lasting almost two years without the start of a formal trial. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.