Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has refuted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s claims that the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not use convicted felons as state witnesses in the trumped-up drug trade cases against her.
De Lima, the first prominent political prisoner under the Duterte regime, maintained that the DOJ violated the law when it admitted into the Witness Protection Program (WPP) 13 state witnesses convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude.
“Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says there are no convict State Witnesses being used against me because no convict has been discharged as such under Sec. 17, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court,” she said in her Dispatch from Crame No. 418.
“He seems to be ignorant that this is not the only legal provision that turns a person into a State Witness,” she added.
The Senator from Bicol reminded Guevarra that state witnesses are not only provided for in Section 17 Rule 119 of the Rules of Court but as well as under the Witness Protection Security and Benefits Program (WPSBP) that he himself is expected to administer as Justice Secretary.
De Lima said, “Guevarra should read that specific provision in the law. It is prefaced as ‘State Witness’, and it provides for the circumstances, conditions, and qualifications on how one becomes a State Witness under the WPSBP.”
According to Sec. 10 (e) of RA 6981, criminals convicted of such crimes are not qualified to turn State Witness, she recalled.
De Lima recently filed administrative and criminal complaints against former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Guevarra, the former’s successor, for illegally admitting and continuing the unlawful admission, respectively, of 13 convicted felons as state witnesses against her.
De Lima charged Aguirre and Guevarra before the Office of the Ombudsman with negligence in prosecution, toleration of criminal offenses and violations of Section 3 of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Aside from the said charges, De Lima also charged Guevarra with gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct for continuing the failure of the DOJ to prosecute the convicts despite their public admission of their involvement in the illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
While Guevarra claimed that he has yet to see De Lima’s complaint, he insisted that “no convicted person has been used as a state witness under Rule 119 against Senator Leila de Lima.”
On her part, De Lima maintained that Guevarra has no excuse in not knowing the status of the 13 criminal convicts as State Witnesses under his witness protection program.
“His prosecutors are using them illegally as witnesses against me. His department granted them immunity illegally so they can testify against me,” she said.
The former justice secretary slammed Guevarra for illegally excluding the 13 convicts from the criminal charges filed against her amid their confessions of involvement to illegal drug trading.
“Malinaw na hindi naman sila papayag na mag-testigo kung wala silang immunity. Ang immunity na iyan sa ilalim ng WPP Law at iba pang mga pinangako sa kanila ni dating SOJ Aguirre, bukod sa matinding pressure sa kanila, ang motibo nila sa pag-testigo laban sa akin base sa mga kasinungalingan,” she said.
De Lima further asked: “Kung totoong ordinary witnesses lang sila, ibig sabihin wala silang immunity, bakit hindi sila kinasuhan ng DOJ kahit malinaw na inamin nila ang pagkasangkot nila sa Bilibid drug trade? This is more than prosecutorial misconduct!”
She continues to face fabricated drug charges in both Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court, Branches 205 and 206, but she has refused to enter any plea in what she considered as a sham trial based on orchestrated lies.