De Lima lawyers accuse DOJ of covering up ‘fatal defects’ in drug raps with amended info

December 8, 2017 - 2:36 PM
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File photo of Senator Leila de Lima as she arrives at Muntinlupa RTC branch 205. (photo from De Lima's media bureau)

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyers of detained Senator Leila de Lima accused government prosecutors of seeking to cover up “fatal defects” in the drug charges they filed against the lawmaker by seeking to file an amended information against her.

De Lima and her co-accused — former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Bucayu, her former driver Ronnie Dayan and former aide Joenel Sanchez — were supposed to be arraigned at Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Friday morning, December 8, on drug trading charges filed against them by former National Bureau of Investigation directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala for their alleged involvement in the drug trade at the National Bilibid Prison.

However, the arraignment was reset by Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon because of separate motions filed by the prosecution and the defense.

The motion to admit amended information filed by he prosecution seeks to change the charges against De Lima and her co-accused from drug trading into conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading. De Lima’s lawyers, on the other hand, filed a motion for reconsideration questioning the arrest order issued by Branch 206 when there was a pending motion on the matter before the Supreme Court.

De Leon gave both parties 15 days to comment on each other’s motions.

On of the senator’s lawyers, Boni Tacardon claimed the prosecution sought to amend the information against De Lima “para maiwasan ang (to avoid the) fatal defects sa (in the) original information, which is the absence of actual drugs allegedly traded.”

He also noted the difference between the cases filed before Branches 204 and 205 of the Muntinlupa RTC from that with Branch 206, which alleges that De Lima used inmates at the national penitentiary to peddle drugs, claiming the reason for this “adjustment” was the prosecution’s lack of evidence.

Tacardon said they would study this “peculiarity” even as he complained that the Department of Justice’s amendments to the complaints it filed against De Lima were making it difficult for them to plan her defense.

Nakakalito talaga ang information na sinasampa nila. Kahit kami ‘di namin maintindihan (The information they are filing is confusing. We admit we cannot understand it any longer),” he said. “How can you properly defend the Senator kung ‘di mo naman maintidihan at malabo ang information na sinasampa sa amin (if you cannot understand and the information filed against us is vague)?”

But Senior Assitant State Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo denied any irregularity in their bid to file an amended information, saying they had also done so in Branches 204 and 205. He said this was allowed while an accused has yet to be arraigned.

“Any amendment as to form or substance may be made without leave of court before the accused enters his plea. The only thing that there will be leave of court is when the amendment consists in the downgrading of offense or exclusion of one of the accused to be discharged from the information,” Ocampo explained.

The amendment, he said, was to make the information “more precise and to conform with the evidence in the allegation in the complaint.”

“It will not in any way prejudice the rights of the accused. Neither it will alter the theory of the prosecution which stands in the original information. It will be the same also in the amended information,” he added.

In other developments, De Lima’s camp also slammed the tightened security that has prevented visitors from seeing her at the Custodial Center in Camp Crame and curtailed her right to express her sentiments.

Even De Lima’s lawyers are now required to submit to searches.

Tacardon said they have submitted their complaint to the head of the Custodial Center ad were waiting for a response.

While stressing they did not intend to second guess the reasons for the move, “we feel that is a violation of the rights of Senator De Lima,” he said.