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Testimony vs De Lima on drug payola ‘solid’

Leila De Lima

THE defense lawyers of detained Senator Leila De Lima failed to destroy the probative value of the testimony given by prosecution witness Joel Capones who testified before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court that he saw jailed drug lord Jaybee Sebastian hand over P1.4 million in drug money to the then Justice Secretary at the latter’s “Bahay na Bato” inside the New Bilibid Prison sometime in March 2014.

This was despite subjecting Capones to a grueling two-hour long cross examination by De Lima’s counsel during Tuesday’s hearing presided over by Judge Romeo S. Buenaventura of RTC, Branch 256, aimed at destroying his testimony and credibility as a state witness against the lady senator who has been accused of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading inside the NBP when she was still secretary of the Department of Justice.

De Lima along with several co-accused including Ronnie Dayan and Jad de Vera were accused of conspiring and confederating with each other to commit illegal drugs trading, particularly violation of Section 26 (b) in relation to Section 5, Section 3 (jj), and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

In an interview after the hearing, the DOJ prosecution panel led by Provincial Prosecution Ramoncito Bienvenido Ocampo Jr. stressed that Capones’ testimony remains solid despite efforts by De Lima’s lawyers to crack it during the cross examination.

Ocampo stressed that as far as the prosecution is concerned, Capones’ testimony was very clear and categorical that some time in March 5, 2014 he saw alleged drug lord Sebastian hand over to De Lima P1.4 million in drug money.

“In his testimony, (Capones) delivered first the money to Jaybee Sebastian — the P1.4 million, and when the senator then Secretary of Justice arrived, Jaybee Sebastian handed the money to Sec. De Lima. That is part of the testimony,” Ocampo told reporters.

“His testimony is very clear as far as we are concerned. We leave it to the court for its appreciation of our evidence as far as the gist of the testimony of Joel Capones,” he declared.

Ocampo also said the prosecution will ask the court to allow them to subject Capones to a redirect examination once the defense completes its cross examination when the hearings resume on April 16.

“There was a lot of misleading questions (during the cross examinations) so we see the need to clarify (during redirect examination),” State Prosecutor Darwin Canete said.

During the hearing last week, Capones testified that on December 2013, fellow NBP inmate Sebastian asked him to engage in illegal drug trading inside and out of the NBP in order to raise funds to support the senatorial bid of accused De Lima who was then the DOJ Secretary.

The witness admitted that he indeed transacted illegal drugs or shabu to heed the directive of Sebastian because he was convinced and impressed with the latter’s apparent strong influence with the previous administration, particularly with De Lima.

The witness has reaffirmed before the court the contents of his three-page sworn affidavit wherein he alleged that there was one time in 2014 when Sebastian summoned him to his booth to bring in the money that the latter intended to give to Sec. De Lima.

“Wala na po ako magawa kundi sundin ang sinabi ni Jaybee na magbenta ng droga sa Bilibid dahil maimpluwensya po sya sa NBP,” Capones told the court.

Capones claimed that on March 2014, during the anniversary of the Commando Sigue-Sigue organization, he delivered the amount of P1.4 million to Sebastian as quota payment of the shabu drugs that he sold.

The witness said the delivery was at Sebastian’s “bahay na bato” inside the NBP.

During the said delivery, he saw accused Leila De Lima went to the same place to meet with Sebastian.

Capones recalled that he personally witnessed Sebastian hand over to then Sec. De Lima the P1.4 million that he gave to the alleged drug lord and heard him saying “Ma’am eto na po ang pera”.

The prosecution witness confirmed that accused De Lima has the imprimatur of the drug dealings inside and outside of the Bureau of Corrections facility.

Sebastian already pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal drug trading inside the NBP.

In his July 2020 affidavit, Sebastian confessed that he facilitated the delivery of P5 million between convicted drug lord Peter Co and then-Justice Secretary De Lima through then-Bureau of Corrections Officer in Charge Rafael Ragos on 2 occasions in November and December 2012.

Sebastian also admitted in his July 2020 affidavit that De Lima’s aide Joenel Sanchez asked him to help De Lima raise funds for her candidacy in the 2013 senatorial elections, upon the instructions of Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former bodyguard.

Before he was formally introduced as witness against De Lima, Sebastian, who confessed running the illegal drug trade in the NBP supposedly to raise funds for De Lima’s then senatorial bid, died on July 18, 2020 reportedly due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, conviction of detained Senator Leila de Lima “appears inevitable” unless she would be able to refute the evidence presented by the Department of Justice accusing her of conspiracy to commit illegal drugs trading inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City when she was still a Cabinet secretary.

“In denying senator De Lima’s demurrer to evidence, the trial judge concluded that, unless rebutted, the prosecution’s evidence is sufficient to convict the accused,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, in a text message to reporters.

Guevarra made the statement after Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court, Branch 205, denied last week the separate demurrer to evidence of De Lima and her co-accused Ronnie Dayan. A demurrer to evidence is a plea to dismiss a case on the basis of weak evidence presented by the prosecution.

The court also junked the petition for bail by De Lima and Dayan who were accused of conspiring and confederating with each other to commit illegal drugs trading, particularly violation of Section 26 (b) in relation to Section 5, Section 3 (jj), and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The denial of the demurrer to evidence paves the way for the court’s reception of the defense evidence to refute the allegations and testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on March 5, 2021.

“In denying the senator’s petition for bail, the trial court found that the evidence against the accused is strong,” Guevarra stressed.

“The burden of proof now shifts to the defense. If the accused is unable to overcome the prima facie finding of guilt, the outcome appears inevitable,” the DOJ chief said, implying confidence that the evidence against De Lima and Dayan is so strong to secure a guilty verdict.

In the 35-page ruling dated February 17, 2021 denying her plea to dismiss the case, the judge relied on the testimonies of former Bureau of Corrections acting chief Rafael Ragos and agent Jun Ablen, who both testified to personally delivering P10 million to De Lima in her home.

Ragos and Ablen said they handed the money to Dayan, and then they saw Dayan hand the money to De Lima.