DOJ drops charges vs De Lima's co-accused, turns him into witness

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped charges against a co-accused of Senator Leila de Lima in the drug trading case being heard by Branch 204 of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC).

That leaves only the senator and her former driver-boyfriend Ronnie Dayan to stand trial.

The DOJ filed an amended information before the RTC, dropping charges against former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, on Thursday, November 16, during what was supposed to be De Lima's arraignment.

De Lima's arraignment was re-scheduled to January 24, 2018.

Ragos will turn witness. He is is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation, where he surrendered in February after De Lima was arrested.

In the original information, it was Ragos and Dayan who allegedly collected the grease money from drug convicts inside Bilibid, supposedly to fund De Lima's senatorial campaign in 2016.

The DOJ amended it so now De Lima and Dayan are accused of conspiring with each other to trade and traffic illegal drugs in the penitentiary. (READ: Inside Bilibid: Resurgence, resignation, 'recanting')

WITNESS. BuCor's former OIC, Rafael Ragos, surrenders to the National Bureau of Investigation in February 2017 for drug trade charges. He is now dropped from the case as he turns into witness. Photo courtesy of DOJ

WITNESS. BuCor's former OIC, Rafael Ragos, surrenders to the National Bureau of Investigation in February 2017 for drug trade charges. He is now dropped from the case as he turns into witness.

Photo courtesy of DOJ

Supreme Court ruling

The amended information comes after the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that affirmed the jurisdiction of the DOJ and the RTC over the cases, effectively keeping De Lima in jail.

De Lima's lawyers said the information did not sufficiently charge De Lima of drug trade, but SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr said in his ponencia that "the trial court can simply order that another complaint or information be filed without discharging the accused from custody."

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the 6 dissenters, said the DOJ's information was sorely lacking.

"Indisputably, the Information does not identify the buyer, the seller, the object, or the consideration of the illegal sale or trade. The Information also does not make any allegation of delivery of the drugs illegally sold or traded nor of their payment. The Information does not state the kind and quantity of the drugs subject of the illegal sale or trade," Carpio said.

The DOJ has shortened the amended information, saying this time that De Lima "decided and agreed to commit illegal drug trading" with Dayan, through the inmates. (READ: De Lima camp says SC ruling 'a travesty of justice')

'Suspicious'

De Lima said turning of Ragos into a witness was "very" suspicious.

Ibig sabihin may deal. Hindi ko siya sinisisi, baka lang may banta o ginigipit din siya," De Lima told reporters after the hearing on Thursday. (It means there's a deal. I don't blame him, maybe he has a threat or is being harrassed.)

De Lima also said her co-accused should man up and tell the truth.

"Huwag na silang magpagamit sa mga kampon ni Duterte na nanggigipit sa akin. Dapat kailangang maging totoo sila, huwag na silang magsinungaling," De Lima said. (They should not allowed themselves to be used by Duterte's minions who are harrassing me. They should be truthful, they should stop lying.)

De Lima's interviews, especially those taken at the Muntinlupa RTC, were done hastily. She was whisked off by her jail escorts to the bus that would take her back to the Camp Crame Custodial Center. w

Her interviews at the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) are more relaxed. Members of the media are allowed to interview her at the small hearing room of Branch 34 before Judge Ma Ludmila De Pio Lim arrives.

On Thursday, Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero did not allow reporters to enter the courtroom for the scheduled arraignment.

Motion to inhibit

De Lima also filed a motion to inhibit against Guerrero, citing "obvious partiality and questionable independence."

The arguments contained in her motion are roughly the same arguments she raised in her SC petition. De Lima has since appealed the ruling.

“The glaringly clear, single-minded over-eagerness to detain accused De Lima based on an invalid Information that is  irredeemably and   irreparably  tainted and made defective by, among others, the rampant and blatant violation of Accused De Lima’s rights, is quite evident,” the senator said in her motion.

De Lima again questioned why Guerrero immediately ordered her arrest even when she had filed a Motion to Quash disputing the RTC's jurisdiction.

The SC has ruled that the DOJ and RTC have jurisdiction. Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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