MANILA, Philippines — The prosecution’s witnesses from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had testified that they found no evidence linking Sen. Leila de Lima to drug trading at New Bilibid Prison (NBP), according to a lawyer for the detained senator.
In a statement late on Friday, Boni Tacardon said AMLC financial investigator Artemio Baculi Jr. and PDEA digital forensic examiner Krystal Caseñas told the court that they did not find any transactions between the senator and the drug lords held at the national penitentiary.
De Lima has been detained at Camp Crame since February 2017 on what she said were trumped-up drug charges as a reprisal for her investigation of President Duterte’s alleged human rights violations in his war on drugs that started when he was mayor of Davao City.
Baculi and Caseñas were presented as witnesses for the Department of Justice at the resumption of the hearings of Criminal Cases No. 17-165 and 17-166—two of the three cases alleging conspiracy to commit drug trading against De Lima and several others. Friday’s proceedings at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 were done via teleconference.
“(Baculi said) that even if De Lima’s name had been mentioned (in talks among drug lords), he never investigated the senator,” Tacardon said.
He noted that the AMLC investigator’s statement reaffirmed that there had been no transaction between convicted drug lord Peter Co and De Lima and one of her coaccused, Jose Adrian Dera, a former “asset” of a police antidrug unit.
Baculi first testified on Sept. 25, saying that his investigation of suspects in the NBP drug trade showed that no money flowed from the bank accounts of the drug lords to either De Lima or Dera.
On questioning by defense lawyers during Friday’s hearing, Caseñas admitted that there were no exchanges between Dera and De Lima related to any drug transaction. This was based on the messages and call logs extracted from the cell phones given to PDEA by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), she said.
‘Only her opinion’
“From the cell phones allegedly owned by the drug lords, there was nothing whatsoever that indicated that Senator De Lima was part of any drug transaction. That was what became crucial earlier, especially since it was the prosecution’s own witnesses who testified to that,” Tacardon said.
But Caseñas’ affidavit indicating that the cell phones she received from the BuCor were properties of Co was rejected by the court, as these were “only her opinion.”
According to Tacardon, the examination conducted on the phones allegedly owned by Co were unauthorized as PDEA failed to obtain a cyberwarrant, which is required under Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
“If you don’t get a cyber warrant, any evidence recovered will be excluded, and may even result in the examiner facing criminal and administrative liabilities,” Tacardon said.
When he testified on Feb. 22, 2019, Benjamin Magalong, who was chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police when the drug charges were filed against De Lima, cleared the senator of any connection to the NBP drug traders.
Magalong, who is now mayor of Baguio City, noted that based on CIDG intelligence information, it was former BuCor officer in charge Rafael Ragos who was “involved in extorting and receiving payola from high-profile inmates.”
Ragos was coaccused in the case but had turned prosecution witness against De Lima.
The senator had filed separate motions for bail in June and in August, citing the prosecution’s “weak evidence.”
Judge Liezel Aquiatan of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 has yet to rule on either motion.
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