Muntinlupa court acquits De Lima in 2nd drug case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Former Senator Leila de Lima secured victory in one of the two remaining drug charges filed against her by the Duterte administration, a decision from a Muntinlupa court showed.

The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 204 announced the acquittal of de Lima on Friday morning, almost a month after state prosecutors sought to reopen her trial amid the existence of a rebuttal evidence.

Even if de Lima won the case, she still has to wait for Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256’s decision on whether to allow her to post bail.

A vocal critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte, de Lima has been in detention for six years over allegations that she benefitted from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison, with the drug money used to finance her senatorial campaign in 2016.

This claim, however, was retracted by former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos early last year, claiming he was “coerced” by then Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, an appointee of Duterte.

Drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa likewise withdrew his allegations against de Lima.

The former lawmaker has long maintained her innocence.

Following the decision, de Lima's lawyer Boni Tacardon told reporters that the recantation of Ragos played a major role in the acquittal of the detained former legislator.

“Dahil no'ng binawi niya itong salaysay, nawalan nang tuluyan ang basehan ng akusasyon sa kanya (Because when he retracted his story, the basis of the accusation against [de Lima] completely lost),” Tacardon said.

Tacardon noted that while the investigation proved that there was illegal drug trading in the New Bilibid Prison, there was no “positive evidence” that could link de Lima and co-accused Ronnie Dayan in the drug activities.

Dayan served as the former senator’s bodyguard and was known as her alleged drug money collector.

Both de Lima and Dayan were acquitted based on “reasonable doubt,” Tacardon added.

Tacardon and Heidi Soriano, lawyer of Roni Dayan, were “hopeful” that a similar decision would be achieved in the pending case.

In 2021, de Lima won one of the three drug charges filed against her by the Duterte administration.

Another case is pending with Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256.

“I had no doubt from the very beginning that I will be acquitted in all the cases the Duterte regime has fabricated against me based on the merits and strength of my innocence,” de Lima said in a statement read by Tacardon in reaction to the court's decision.

“That’s already two cases down, one more to go,” the former senator said.

De Lima also thanked those “who stood by and prayed for me all these years.”

“Malinaw sa akin, hindi rin ito ang katapusan. Tuloy ang laban,” she said.

[Translation: It’s clear to me that this is not the end. The fight continues.]