DOJ appeals De Lima's acquittal in 2nd drug case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 30) — The Department of Justice has filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the acquittal of former Senator Leila de Lima in her second drug case.

Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 204 on May 12 acquitted De Lima in one of the two remaining drug charges filed against her by the Duterte administration. The acquittal came after former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos retracted his story of her supposed involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

The motion filed by DOJ prosecutors on May 27 said the court gave weight to Ragos' recantation in clearing the former senator of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading even if the retraction did not destroy his original testimony implicating De Lima.

The motion said "jurisprudence dictates and the circumstances of the instant case reveal that the subsequent recantation of witness Ragos was not able to vitiate his original testimony given in open court, and there are other pieces of evidence on record to prove all the elements of the crime charged, including the role played by both accused in the illegal drug trading inside the NBP."

State prosecutors warned that to set aside Ragos' original statements just because he changed his mind would "simply make a mockery" of the criminal justice system.

They noted that for years the silence of the witness was "deafening," and his recantation days before the 2022 elections — when De Lima was seeking reelection — comes off "as highly suspect and should not be the sole barometer and guiding threshold in rendering the assailed judgment."

There were also other witnesses who corroborated Ragos' original testimony, the motion added.

Meanwhile, De Lima's lawyer Boni Tacardon said the former senator's legal team will file a motion to expunge the prosecutors' motion for reconsideration (MR).

"The MR is a mere scrap of paper because the proceedings in CC 17-165 have already been concluded with finality with the judgment of acquittal," he said. "Nothing short of a Supreme Court decision re-opening the case can vest the judge with jurisdiction anew to alter a judgment of acquittal which is final and executory immediately, hence unappealable, whether by MR with the trial court or appeal to a higher court."

De Lima, a vocal critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte, has been in detention for over six years on charges that as justice secretary, she benefitted from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison and used the money to finance her senatorial campaign in 2016.

She has consistently denied the accusations, claiming Duterte was behind the "massive demolition job" against her.

One of three drug cases filed against her remains pending.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Pia Garcia contributed to this report.