New state witness’ testimony won’t prove De Lima’s guilt — rights lawyer

THE NEW state witness’ testimony against detained former senator Leila M. De Lima will unlikely add weight to the illegal drug trafficking charge against her, a human rights lawyer said at the weekend.  

“The rebuttal witness has no personal knowledge of the facts constituting the crime,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Viber message.  

“He cannot attest to the truth and veracity of the content of the sworn statements presented.” 

This comes after a Muntinlupa regional trial court allowed government prosecutors to have Demiteer U. Huerta, a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), testify in Ms. De Lima’s drug trafficking case. The court maintained its date of decision of the case on May 12. 

Justice Spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.  

“The court does not shrink from its responsibility to receive evidence in order to ferret out the truth,” Abraham Joseph B. Alcantara, presiding judge of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204, said in the court order dated April 24 and made public on April 28.  

Mr. Huerta helped ex-prison chief Rafael Z. Ragos write an affidavit that accused Ms. De Lima of abetting the illegal drug train inside the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary  

In February, Mr. Ragos took back his allegations in open court, saying he had been coerced by a former Justice chief into testifying against one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s most outspoken critics.  

Mr. Cortez said Mr. Huerta’s testimony will not prove anything since he only assisted in writing the affidavit and did not have personal knowledge of the allegations.  

“It will not prove any of the acts imputed against De Lima,” he said.  

Four witnesses have recanted their testimonies about Ms. De Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade. All have claimed to have been coerced by the government of Mr. Duterte.  

One of the three-drug charges against the former lawmaker has been dismissed, while two are still pending in court. Last year, the Ombudsman cleared her and her former aide of bribery charges for lack of evidence.  

Ms. De Lima, who has been in jail since 2017, has asserted her innocence saying she was being tried for criticizing the former administrations deadly drug war.  

In 2016, Ms. De Lima led a Senate probe into vigilante-style killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was still mayor and vice mayor of the city. She was arrested a year later after allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade.  

Political experts have said her imprisonment showed how easily the Philippine justice system can be abused.   

Amnesty International has called on the Philippine government to drop what it called “fabricated charges” against her. It said the government deprived her of her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention.  

Human Rights Watch has said Ms. De Lima’s imprisonment showed the continuation of human rights abuses in the country and urged the current government to release her. John Victor D. Ordoñez