MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima said on Thursday, September 22, that a former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency official is reportedly being pressured to testify against her.
She was referring to Lieutenant Colonel Ferdinand Marcelino, who was detained in January over a drug case but was released in June after the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
De Lima said in a press briefing on Thursday that she received two forwarded text messages sent by Marcelino to their “common acquaintance,” saying he feared for his life. One was sent on July 19, when De Lima had not yet launched a Senate probe into the killings, and the other on September 5.
The senator said she asked for permission to share the text messages to the media following the DOJ decision to reverse its earlier ruling dismissing the case against Marcelino.
"Mistah good pm. Magpasalamat lang sana ako sa lahat ng tulong at efforts mo for me habang ako ay nasa kulungan. I can never thank you enough mistah. Hindi pa ako masyado makagalaw at labas ngayon dahil ang dami gusto kumatay sa akin, bok," read the text message supposedly sent in July. Mistah, in military terms, refers to a classmate at the Philippine Military Academy.
(Classmate, good afternoon. I just want to thank you for all your help and efforts while I was still inside prison. I can never thank you enough, classmate. I still can't move and go out freely because many people want to kill me.)
Citing the same message, De Lima said there are some groups allegedly trying to convince Marcelino to malign her through the House probe into her alleged role in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison.
"'Di ko pa din mapuntahan si Senator LD (Leila De Lima) kasi ginagawan kami ng mga fabricated stories (I still can't go to Senator Leila De Lima because they are fabricating stories about us.) There are also some groups who [are] trying to convince me to speak against her," it added.
Another part read: "But rest assured na hindi ako pagagamit sa kanila mistah (I would not allow myself to be used), not only because I really appreciated and forever indebted sa inyo ni Ma'am, but because the people deserve no less than the truth and justice."
The more recent message supposedly indicated that pressures against Marcelino are getting stronger by the day. The same groups allegedly are threatening to reopen the case against him if he would not give in to the request.
"Mistah pressures against me are mounting and they would even reopen my case, but rest assured that I will never give in to them mistah. Please tell Senator Leila to keep faith and be strong."
The senator said there are more text messages from her source allegedly coming from Marcelino but she has no clearance yet to publicly disclose these.
Hours after De Lima's announcement, Marcelino came out to the media to deny the senator's pronouncement that the government is pressuring him to testify against her.
"I am categorically denying that anyone is pressuring me, or anyone is threatening or coercing me even from the side of the government to testify against her," Marcelino said in a news briefing with Public Attorney's Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta.
He, however, confirmed that the messages De Lima presented to reporters were indeed his texts to his classmate. Marcelino said he was surprised that the senator publicized the messages, saying these were clearly part of "privileged communication."
Marcelino said the context of the messages is to boost the morale of De Lima, whom he knew on a professional basis as he worked in PDEA and she headed the justice department. He said he only wanted to lift the spirits of someone who was going through a trying time, which he had experienced in the first half of the year.
Responding to questions, Marcelino said that someone tried to approach him – a retired government official – but he was not certain whether this person reached out to him on behalf of someone from government.
"May sumubok na kumausap sa akin, kung may alam ako na negative sa kanya (De Lima), pero sabi ko sa kanila, 'Ako po, Sir, nakalaya ako because, I always sided with the truth. Sa lahat ng bagay, 'yun ang pinaninindigan ko, na katotohanan at puro katotohanan lamang.' Nang sinabi ko na wala akong masasabing labag sa katotohanan, hindi naman po nila ako pinilit," he said.
(Someone tried to talk to me, if I knew anything negative about her [De Lima], but I told them, "In my case, Sir, I was released because I've always sided with the truth. I always stand by the truth and nothing but the truth." When I said that I cannot say anything that goes against the truth, they didn't force me anymore.)
He said he was not sure whether the person who talked to him represented someone from the government. "Hindi ko alam ang real purpose niya (I don't know his real purpose) when he talked to me," he added.
When asked, Marcelino said he was ready to participate in any congressional inquiry, where he would only "side with the truth."
In January 2016, the DOJ under De Lima investigated a complaint of the Philippine National Police-Anti Illegal Drugs Group (PNP-AIDG) and PDEA against Marcelino for allegedly violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for being in possession of P380 million worth of illegal drugs. (READ: Marine colonel: I would never betray country for drugs)
Marcelino said he was only on a secret mission. The case was then dismissed in June 2016 but the PNP-AIDG and PDEA filed a motion for reconsideration. The DOJ has just reversed its ruling.
The PAO chief said that they would file a motion to suspend the arraignment of Marcelino and the issuance of a warrant of arrest, a motion for judicial determination of probable cause, and a motion to quash. – Rappler.com