CA upholds decision denying De Lima's bid to prosecute ex-BuCor chief, 13 others in drug cases

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) - The Court of Appeals (CA) stood by its decision rejecting former Senator Leila de Lima's bid to include a former Bureau of Corrections chief and several convict-witnesses as co-accused in the drug cases against her.

In a July 20 resolution released only on Tuesday, the CA said De Lima's arguments in her motion for reconsideration (MR) were "mere reiterations of points and issues" which were already addressed in its consolidated decision in October 2021.

De Lima has assailed the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court's (RTC) ruling which allows the exclusion of former Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos as an accused in one of her two pending drug cases. She said the verdict constitutes grave abuse of discretion.

Ragos previously testified that he personally delivered drug money from convicts in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to De Lima's residence when she was Justice Secretary. However, he recanted his allegations last May. He claimed he was forced to implicate the former senator so he can be dropped as co-accused and instead be turned into a witness.

De Lima also argued in her MR that her right to equal protection was violated when the RTC, in separate orders, denied her motion to prosecute 13 convict-witnesses who also accused her of abetting an illegal drug trade in the NBP.

"Since no new matter and argument had been raised, we find no cogent reason to justify the modification, amendment, or reversal of our consolidated decision," the CA said.

The appellate court maintained that the RTC's orders were not issued with grave abuse of discretion, as these were in line with the rule that the prosecution of crimes rests on the judgment of the executive branch, or of public prosecutors.

"Prosecutors are solely responsible for the determination of the amount of evidence sufficient to establish probable cause to justify the filling of the appropriate criminal charges against a respondent," the CA said.

It added that De Lima cannot invoke the equal protection clause as the convict-witnesses "can hardly be considered as equals, as substantial distinctions exist between them." It said there was a finding of probable cause and several complaints had been filed against the ex-senator, unlike in the case of the convicts.

De Lima, who has been detained since 2017, maintained her innocence and accused the Duterte administration of fabricating charges against her for investigating its bloody drug war.

A total of four witnesses, including Ragos, have withdrawn their testimonies against the former lawmaker since late April.

De Lima was acquitted in one of her three drug cases in February last year, while two others are pending. A Supreme Court official earlier said the remaining cases may possibly be submitted for decision before the year ends.