De Lima questions Court’s swiftness denying her motion to disqualify witnesses

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has expressed dismay over the rejection of her motion seeking to disqualify 13 convicts as state witnesses in the trumped-up illegal drug trade case lodged before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206.

De Lima lamented the judge violated her own order giving her a period to reply to the opposition of the prosecution panel. Instead of waiting for De Lima’s reply, the Muntinlupa judge prematurely denied her motion for the disqualification of the witnesses.

According to De Lima, Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo hastily decided to deny her Motion, thereby paving the way for the prosecution’s presentation of New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates, starting with former policeman Engelberto Durano as its third witness, in spite of the pendency of the period given to file her Reply.

“After the prosecution filed its opposition to my Motion to Disqualify 13 convicts as state witnesses – which included Durano – in the bogus drug case I am facing, my camp should be allowed to file our Reply to the said opposition, in accordance with the procedure laid down by Judge Domingo herself in her order,” she said.

“That’s why I was disappointed to find out that Judge Navarro-Domingo hastily junked my said motion for allegedly being ‘devoid of merit’ without considering the period she herself has given for my legal team to file a Reply,” she added.

The scheduled resumption of public hearing in Criminal Case No. 17-167 lodged before the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 last Sept. 25 at the New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City, was suddenly cancelled reportedly because Judge Navarro-Domingo was sick.

The Prosecution was supposed to present Durano, a former police officer convicted for murder and frustrated murder and now serving sentence at the NBP, during the said hearing.

In denying De Lima’s bid to disqualify 13 witnesses “convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude,” Navarro-Domingo cited Section 20 under Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which states that “all persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make their known perception to others, may be witnesses.”

De Lima maintained that Durano, as with 12 other convicts, do not qualify as state witnesses because they are, by law, disqualified to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program (WPP) for their conviction of crimes involving moral turpitude.

“If we follow the law, you are not allowed to be a state witness and be admitted into the WPP if you are convicted of crimes involving vileness or depravity with respect to a person’s duty to another or to society in general. These cases include murder, drug trading, homicide, among others,” she said. “As I’ve said before, these witnesses are not credible. Since they are already convicted of another crime, whatever they say in relation to the drug charge will not have a great effect on them. In short, they have nothing to lose but have something to gain,” she added.

De Lima’s camp will be filing an appropriate pleading questioning the Order.

The case for illegal drug trading in Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 originated from the complaint filed by two disgruntled NBI officers whose appointments were not renewed during the term of the Senator as justice secretary.

Under the case, De Lima is now being accused of conspiring with former Bureau of Corrections chief Jesus Bucayu and his former staff Wilfredo Elli, De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan and security aide Joenel Sanchez, convict Jaybee Sebastian, and a certain Jad de Vera – to trade drugs inside the NBP to allegedly raise funds for her 2016 senatorial bid.

In both Muntinlupa RTC, Branches 205 and 206, where she is facing fabricated charges, De Lima has refused to enter any plea in stark protest against what she branded as a sham trial based on orchestrated lies where convicted criminals are allowed to testify against her.

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