Self-confessed drug lord Espinosa recants allegations vs. De Lima, says police threatened him

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Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, who testified before the Senate in 2016 against detained Sen. Leila De Lima, has retracted his allegations against the lawmaker, saying he only invented his stories of their dealings because he was threatened by the police. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, who testified before the Senate in 2016 against detained Sen. Leila De Lima, has retracted his allegations against the lawmaker, saying he only invented his stories of their dealings because he was threatened by the police.

In a counter-affidavit filed at the Department of Justice on Thursday, Espinosa said he has no intention of affirming his extra-judicial confession from the Senate hearings since he was only "coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened by the police."

De Lima, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, has been detained for the past five years based on what her camp calls trumped-up drug charges. She has recently been acquitted in one of the three cases against her.

"Any statement he made against the Senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the illegal drug trade," stated the counter-affidavit shared to the media by Espinosa's lawyer, Raymund Palad.

The affidavit signed by Espinosa said he had no choice but to fabricate the stories for fear of his life following the death of his father 18 days before the Senate hearing.

Espinosa's statement firmly said, he "had no dealings with Sen. De Lima and has not given her any money at any given time." He also apologized to De Lima.

In a phone call with CNN Philippines, Atty. Palad said the counter-affidavit was filed at 9 a.m. Thursday during a Zoom meeting before the DOJ and was subscribed around 1:15 p.m. It was filed in response to the National Bureau of Investigation filing drug charges against Espinosa based on his confession at the Senate.

The lawyer said Espinosa confirmed his signature during the online meeting.

Espinosa is currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan since April 14 following his attempted escape from the NBI, which Palad said led to his removal from the Witness Protection Program.

Palad noted that Espinosa decided to recant his allegations after he left the NBI's custody.

"Noong wala na siya sa jurisdiction ng NBI, ang sabi niya sa akin, sige attorney, gawin mo na 'yung counter affidavit kasi nga sa NBI noon, under ng jurisdiction ng DOJ 'yan so wala siyang lakas loob na gumawa ng ganyang counter affidavit," said the lawyer.

[Translation: Once no longer under the NBI's jurisdiction, he told me, okay attorney, write the counter-affidavit. He couldn't have the courage to write the counter-affidavit when he was still under the DOJ's jurisdiction.]

No effect

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said Espinosa's revelation will have no effect on the government's cases against De Lima since he is not a state witness.

There are still two pending drug cases against De Lima. She was recently acquitted from the first case out of three.

"Maglalabas kami ng briefer diyan because 'yung recantation ni Kerwin Espinosa [We will release a briefer because Kerwin Espinosa's recantation] has no effect or materiality in so far as the two pending cases are concerned because we are very mindful that Kerwin Espinosa has pending cases in courts and pending cases now with the Department of Justice," said Malcontento on CNN Philippines' News.PH.

The Prosecutor General explained that the reason why the government did not cite Espinosa as a witness was because they were already satisfied with the testimonies of former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos and some inmates to convict De Lima.

"Ang kanyang [His] recantation is at best it is only for personal interest...In so far as the prosecution is concerned, confident kami sa kaso namin [we are confident in our case]. We are not relying on the testimony of Kerwin Espinosa," added Malcontento.

Asked for comment on the issue, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has no personal knowledge on the matter.

"I just observed that the copy posted does not show that it was subscribed before a prosecutor or a notary public," said Guevarra.

'The truth will still come out'

De Lima's lawyer Filibon Tacardon acknowledged Espinosa's statement, saying it proves that the Duterte administration has been fabricating evidence against the senator.

"We have always believed that no matter the lies perpetrated by coerced witnesses, in the end, the truth will still come out," said Tacardon in a statement.

He urged other witnesses to also confess that they were pressured by authorities to lie against De Lima.

"We hope that other witnesses will also come out and confess how they were intimidated, coerced, and bribed into making false testimonies against the good senator and if possible, name those who actively participated in coercing them to come up with such ridiculous narratives against the good senator," the lawyer added.