Amnesty International (AI) renewed its call to release detained Sen. Leila de Lima after self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa retracted his allegations of giving money to the lawmaker, and former Bureau of Corrections Director General and ex-National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Deputy Director Rafael Ragos claimed to have been coerced into testifying against De Lima.
It now became more and more apparent, said AI Philippines Section Director Butch Olano, that De Lima “is a victim of political persecution, targeted and singled out by the Duterte administration for her legitimate work as a human rights defender and duly-elected legislator.”
“Following these retractions, the government must immediately and unconditionally release her and hold accountable those responsible for her unjust detention and the various human rights violations (charges) she has had to endure,” Olano added.
Espinosa recanted his allegations against De Lima while facing a separate criminal case at the Department of Justice. He said all his statement during the Senate hearings against De Lima are not true. “I never had dealings with De Lima and has not given her any drug money,” he added.
He said he was coerced and threatened by the police in his extra-judicial confession during the Senate hearings in late 2016.
AI’s Olano said the contents of Espinosa’s counter-affidavit “is deeply disturbing.”
As for the other key witness against De Lima, former Prisons deputy chief Ragos said he was coerced into testifying against one of President Duterte’s most outspoken critics, indicating that it was former Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II who twisted his arm.
“There is no truth whatsoever to any of these affidavits or House and court testimonies, or any other statement made in the media or other investigatory proceedings, including the Senate and Department of Justice,” according to a statement sent to reporters on May 9.
“I did not expect, at least at this stage… Rafael Ragos to retract his statements and testimonies implicating me in the Bilibid drug trade,” De Lima said in a statement.
“After all, he played along with my persecutors in the Duterte administration for so long I no longer hoped that he still had any remaining ounce of integrity in himself,” she said, adding that these retractions have affirmed her innocence.
Ragos had accused De Lima of accepting PHP5 million in drug money from him when she was still Justice secretary in 2012. She allegedly used the fund to finance her senatorial run in 2016.
The former jail official earlier claimed the money had come from convicted drug lord Peter Co.
“Fearing for my life and my family, I had no choice but to follow everything that these people asked me to do,” Ragos said. “I also did not want to go to jail for fear of being the subject of acts of revenge by criminals I put in jail as an NBI official.”
“All these happened before I became secretary of justice,” Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message on Monday. “Allow me to discuss these matters with the prosecutors concerned.”
De Lima was originally charged with three drug cases over her supposed hand in the proliferation of drugs in the New Bilibid Prison when she was Justice secretary. She has been acquitted in one case and has two pending cases before the Muntinlupa courts.
De Lima has been detained for more than five years now and is seeking a re-election to the Senate.