Leonen questions qualifications of drug lords as state witnesses

MANILA, Philippines – Was Senator Leila de Lima singled out in her drug trade case, especially considering that the convicts who supposedly conspired with her were made state witnesses?

Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen raised this question to Solicitor General Jose Calida on the 3rd day of the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the detained senator's petitions in relation to her drug case on Tuesday, March 28.

“You have here a case where all these are not qualified for the witness protection program but are in conspiracy with De Lima are not named in the information. Would you say that there is a singling out of the accused?” Leonen asked during his interpellation of Solicitor General Jose Calida.

When it filed the charges before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution panel dropped the charges against high-profile convicts Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co as they will be state witnesses against De Lima.

Colanggo and Co, in particular, were among the 3 drug lords that President Rodrigo Duterte had described as “beyond redemption” early in his term, and even warned them that they would "die" as soon as they step out of prison.

Leonen said that the law on witness protection program (WPP) is clear in saying that only individuals who were not convicted of  “any crime involving moral turpitude” are qualified to be state witnesses. 

Calida said the prosecution is allowed to make the call to turn convicts into state witnesses, invoking the caveat in the law which provides an exception if there are no other available witnesses for the state.

Leonen pointed out, however that, Section 33 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act lists the criteria for the exceptions. 

Leonen cited the opening paragraph of Section 33, that a person may acquire immunity, notwithstanding the WPP law, if he "violated Sections 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 19, Article II of this Act, who voluntarily gives information about any violation of Sections 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 16, Article II of this Act as well as any violation of the offenses mentioned if committed by a drug syndicate."

“I do not see Section 5 nor Section 26,” Leonen said.

The information charged against De Lima is violation of Section 5 in relation to Section 26. (READ: EXPLAINER: What is Leila de Lima being accused of?)

When Calida pointed out that Section 5 is also listed by the said provision, Leonen responded, “It’s Section 5 that they will testify to but the actual commission of those people to be admitted to WPP should be 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 19.”

Leonen said he pointed these out because De Lima’s camp is accusing the Department of Justice of singling out the senator.

“By singling out, they are using long arm of the law to oppress, persecution instead of prosecution,” Leonen said.

To this Calida, replied, “This is not a singling out – she chose to deal with these inmates inside Bilibid, so she must reap the consequences, she chose to have conspiracy."

Leonen advised Calida to tackle these issues in the memoranda that he will submit for the High Court’s consideration when it decides the petition.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, however, advised Calida to look into an earlier case where someone convicted for robbery and larsony was made a state witness.

"The court allowed him to be discharged as state witness, and one of the basis of the conviction of the accused was the testimony of that accused who was discharged (as state witness)," Peralta said. – 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.