What has stretched the trial for so long is the array of prosecution witnesses, around 20 of them, who are being presented to prove the government’s case of conspiracy to trade in illegal drugs.
But more than the quantity, the quality of their testimonies must be assessed through the exacting standards of a criminal prosecution.
One of those proposed witnesses is kidnapping convict and alleged drug lord Jaybee Sebastian.
On July 18, 2020, Sebastian died reportedly due to COVID-19. Only 40 years old at the time, his body was immediately cremated, as publicly confirmed by Bureau of Corrections head Gerald Bantag. The cremation was done within 12 hours from his death, supposedly to prevent the spread of the virus.
In an October 2016 affidavit, Sebastian claimed giving de Lima P2 million in a paper bag in 2015 and P8 million more, received by her aide Joenel Sanchez. Sebastian has been unable to affirm that statement in court.
ABS-CBN News reported recently that Sebastian had actually executed a newer affidavit dated July 12, 2020 – only six days before his reported death on July 18. He was also unable to confirm this affidavit in court, for obvious reasons.
ABS-CBN noted that in Sebastian’s more recent affidavit, he made the additional claim that he facilitated the delivery of P5 million between drug lord Peter Co and de Lima through former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos on two occasions in November and December 2012.
This is not contained in his October 2016 affidavit, where Sebastian, as pointed out, only mentioned giving de Lima P2 million in a paper bag in 2015 and P8 million more through Joenel Sanchez. There was no mention of an earlier transaction involving P5 million.
ABS-CBN further reports that a crossed-out sentence in the July 2020 affidavit is Sebastian’s belated claim that he would often see Ronnie Dayan with de Lima when they would visit the New Bilibid Prisons. But Sebastian had explicitly denied knowing Dayan when he testified at the House of Representatives last Oct. 10, 2016.
Even then, Sebastian’s allegations in any of his affidavits are practically worthless. These are scraps of paper in a criminal prosecution. He was not only unable to affirm the truthfulness of his claims, his testimony was not tested through rigorous cross-examination. The judge was not afforded the opportunity to observe his demeanor and assess his credibility as a witness.
If at all, it raises questions as to why he would amend and supplement his earlier testimony, and how he was able to narrate a fresh affidavit when he was already presumably COVID-stricken at the time of its taking.
Another witness, convicted Chinese drug lord Vicente Sy, had claimed during a House hearing in October 2016, that he gave P500,000 for de Lima’s senatorial campaign back in 2012. The allegation was contained in an affidavit read by his lawyer.
Sy mentioned in the same affidavit that in 2013, he gave P1 million to the senator through a man identified only as “George”— Ragos’ alleged bagman. He further said that he saw de Lima inside Sebastian’s quarters, which the latter denied at the time.
Vicente Sy has retracted that statement. According to de Lima’s lawyer, Sy told the trial court that he never gave her money, thereby clearing the senator of any involvement in the drug trade happening in Muntinlupa. Sy even said that he never knew the senator.
The other day, the Inter-Parliamentary Union called for Senator de Lima’s immediate release, deeply concerned that she “has been in detention for three and a half years without any serious evidence presented against her to justify the charges.”
In the face of these developments, there is less reason not to join the call, in the higher interest of justice.
One of the greatest injustices that can ever be done to anyone is to be accused of a crime that he did not commit.
The injustice of a false accusation is greater if the charge involves a heinous offense and the grant of bail pending trial is not a matter of right. This means that the accused remains in prison while the case against him is being heard, no matter how long it takes.
Of course, the accused is presumed innocent until he or she is convicted. But tell that to someone who has spent almost four years in jail, deprived of her normal routine, away from her loved ones./WDJ