After Latest Acquittal, Leila de Lima Faces One Final Hurdle to Freedom
Former senator Leila de Lima and her allies welcomed her latest acquittal on Friday, May 12, by Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204. The development absolves her of one of her final remaining drug charges after the retraction of former Bureau of Corrections acting chief Rafael Ragos. Is it fair to say that we might see her walk out of detention soon enough?
The said case accused De Lima and Ragos of extorting money from drug traffickers, or persons deprived of liberty, inside the New Bilbid Prison in Muntinlupa to allegedly fund her 2016 senatorial run. Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara, however, would put an end to that by saying that the former BuCor chief created "reasonable doubt" after he retracted his statements about the former lawmaker.
“Under the circumstances of this case, the testimony of witness Ragos is necessary to sustain any possible conviction. Without his testimony, the crucial link to establish conspiracy is shrouded with reasonable doubt,” Alcantara explained in his ruling
The last remaining pending case against her is in the hands of Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256, presided by Judge Romeo Buenaventura. Her next hearing is set on June 5, 2023, which could finally set her free after six years of what would be unjust detention.
In 10-Second Speech, Duterte Thanks Filipinos as End of Presidency Nears
What Is Her Final Case All About?
De Lima has been acquitted in two of the three cases, particularly Criminal Case No. 17-166 and her most recent Criminal Case No. 17-165. These do not affect her current and final case.
This leaves the former senator with her last pending case against, Criminal Case No. 17-167. In Criminal Case No. 17-167, De Lima is accused of allowing widespread drug trade inside New Bilibid's maximum security compound. Inmates were said to have made P70 million, which was allegedly handed to De Lima.
The former lawmaker, who was arrested on February 24, 2017, and her camp say that Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 is currently resolving the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the trial.
What Does She and Her Camp Need to Address on June 5?
Judge Buenaventura of Branch 256 explained in an order released on May 5 that it was necessary to “appropriately rule on the offer of evidence” because of the inconsistencies in the markings of the submitted documents.
De Lima's June 5 trial is considered a continuation of the proceedings. Given that this is only the start, she still has a long way to go before this gets resolved. So far, we are yet to see any recantations for this particular case. This is because the prosecution doesn't have solid grounds for its accusations against her.
Criminal Case No. 17-167 is still a developing one at that, but that doesn't mean she can't temporarily be released based on the merits of the case.
What Are the Chances She's Set Free Before the Next Hearing?
If the RTC branch resolved the said issue on the formal offer of evidence, the resolution for bail is expected to come next. Once this happens and the court rules in her favor, De Lima might walk free before June 5. If the alternative happens, De Lima stays in detention.
De Lima previously filed her supplemental petition for bail in February 2023. But fortunately for her team, the June 5 hearing itself isn't related to her bail request. What she needs is for Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 to grant her bail.
She may still see some opposition, of course, from the likes of the Department of Justice, led by Secretary Boying Remulla. The justice chief once claimed that the DOJ would prevent the former lawmaker's petition for bail.
The only times the ex-senator was out of detention was when she had been granted furlough. In August 2019, she visited her mother in Iriga City for two days. Meanwhile, in April 2021, she spent three days for hospital tests to dismiss any possibility of a stroke.
“I am, of course, happy that with this second acquittal in the three cases filed against me, my release from more than six years of persecution draws nearer,” De Lima said after the decision on Friday.
De Lima had been one of the most vocal critics of the Duterte administration's War on Drugs. The charges against her, she claims, had always been politically motivated.