A key witness against Sen. Leila de Lima retracted his testimony implicating the opposition lawmaker in the drug trade at the National Penitentiary last week.
Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa retracted all of his accusations against De Lima, as these were made under duress, he said in a sworn affidavit.
The Justice department, however, said the retraction has no effect in the government’s case against De Lima, even as other witnesses similarly retracted their testimonies against the Senator.
Espinosa said he had been “coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened” into implicating de Lima, who has been incarcerated for the past five years.
In a counter-affidavit submitted to the Justice department, Espinosa said: “Any and all statements given during the Senate hearings, or in the form of sworn written affidavits, against Sen. Leila de Lima are not true.”
Espinosa’s recanting refers only to a new case filed by the Justice department in December, last year, which was an offshoot of the supposed massive drug network being run from inside the New Bilibid Prisons.
De Lima has also been charged of similar drug charges in two other cases but has been acquitted in one of them.
Espinosa apologized to De Lima for his earlier testimony where he said he had paid the Senator drug pay-out bribes when she was still Justice secretary. The payments were coursed through her then bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, who initially testified but later recanted his testimony against De Lima.
In his affidavit, Espinosa said the National Bureau of Investigation has filed the latest case against him in hopes that he would “cooperate and affirm in various courts his testimony given during the Senate hearings held in 2016.”
But Espinosa said he had “no intention of doing so” since he was intimidated by the police. The affidavit added that Espinosa “has no other option but to invent stories for fear of his life and of his family.”
De Lima has received widespread global support from legal groups as well as lawmakers, who noted that the other witnesses against the Senator were from convicted drug offenders, making their testimonies suspect.
After a series of retractions from the witnesses, the Department of Justice banned the media from covering the hearings on the cases against De Lima.
Some of the witnesses have passed away due to various illnesses including COVID-19 inside the penitentiary.
De Lima’s legal counsel, Filibon Tacardon, told local media that they still had to assess how Espinosa’s retraction would affect her cases, given that the incarcerated drug lord is neither a witness nor a respondent.
Tacardon said Espinosa “was initially named as a witness by the prosecution but along the way, the prosecution withdrew that manifestation.”
He added that the affidavit “only proves the length the current administration has gone to fabricate testimonies and evidence against Senator de Lima.”
Espinosa is detained on charges not related to De Lima’s cases.
His lawyer Raymund Palad told local media that the subscribed affidavit was in the possession of the prosecutor handling the case. The lawyer said his client could only affirm his submission of the affidavit via a phone call.
Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra initially doubted the Espinosa affidavit as it was neither subscribed before a prosecutor nor was it notarized.
Palad said his client is detained at the penitentiary, thus while “other respondents can go to notary, they have freedom of movement, you can’t expect a detainee to go to fiscal.”
De Lima was former Justice secretary under the Aquino administration. She investigated then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for the reported summary executions of suspected criminals in the city.
She is currently running for re-election under the camp of Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan.