Former Sen. Leila de Lima was acquitted on the second of three drug charges against her on Friday. File Photo by Joseph Vidal/Philippine Senate Public Relations and information bureau/EPA
May 12 (UPI) -- A court in the Philippines on Friday acquitted former lawmaker Leila de Lima on drug charges she faced under former President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court cleared de Lima of the second of three charges she faced related to her probe of Duterte's war on drugs after a pair of witnesses recanted their testimony against her.
The court said that the decision by Rafael Ragos, the Bureau of Corrections acting chief under Duterte, to drop his testimony created "reasonable doubt" in the case against de Lima and her aide Ronnie Dayan, who was also acquitted.
"Without his testimony, the crucial link to establish conspiracy is shrouded with reasonable doubt," presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara said. "Hence, this court is constrained to consider the subsequent retraction of witness Ragos."
Another witness, Kerwin Espinosa, also retracted his testimony after saying he was "coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened" to make the allegations against de Lima.
Philippines prosecutors had charged that from November 2012 to March 2013, de Lima, one of the leading opposition leaders against Duterte's government, had extorted money from drug dealing inmates inside the New Bilibid Prison and used it to fund her 2016 senatorial run.
A week before her arrest by authorities in 2017, de Lima was one of 10 senate caucus members who voted to continue an investigation into Duterte's alleged involvement in a "death squad" against criminals while he was mayor of Davao City. After the vote, she publicly recommended Duterte's impeachment.
De Lima had faced a total of three counts, with the first charge being dismissed in 2021, but she has been in custody for six years and the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court has still not issued a ruling granting her bail with the final charge unresolved.
"I had no doubt from the very beginning that I will be acquitted in all the cases the Duterte regime has fabricated against me based on the merits and the strength of my innocence," de Lima said in a statement on Twitter.
"That's already two cases down, and one more to go. I am of course happy that with this second acquittal in the third case filed against me, my release from more than six years of persecution draws nearer. I am extremely grateful to all those who stood by and prayed for me all these years."