By Jonathan Hicap
The camp of detained Sen. Leila de Lima has asked a Muntinlupa court to reinstate former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Marcos Ragos as co-accused in a drug case filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in February 2017.
De Lima attended on Feb. 22 the first day of trial in cases 17-165 and 17-166 on conspiracy to trade illegal drugs pending at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 under Judge Liezel Aquiatan.
Benjamin Magalong, former chief of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Baguio City mayoralty candidate, testified at the two trials for the prosecution regarding the raid at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in December 2014 where the CIDG was excluded.
De Lima led the raid that exposed the lavish lifestyles of high-profile inmates and yielded drugs and money but Magalong said the operation could have discovered more contraband if the CIDG was included in the raid.
The senator’s camp filed a motion to reinstate Ragos as co-accused in case 17-165, originally filed by the DOJ against De Lima, Ragos and Ronnie Dayan, accusing them of illegal drug trading through inmates to support De Lima’s senatorial bid.
But in November 2017, the DOJ filed a motion to admit amended information before the court and dropped Ragos as co-accused. The case, then under Judge Juanita Guerrero, admitted the amended information that changed the charges from illegal drug trading to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.
In the motion, De Lima’s camp pointed out that “assuming without admitting that the charge is correct, Ragos appears to be the most guilty even under the amended information.”
Ragos, the motion stated, “himself admitted to dealing with the drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison and has also admitted receiving weekly taras.”
“Ragos also admitted receipt of one million pesos to facilitate the application for pardon of one German Agojo. In the House inquiry, Ragos again admitted receiving money for his personal gain,” the motion read, referring to Ragos’ affidavit and hearing at the House of Representatives in 2016.
De Lima’s camp added that excluding Ragos violated the Supreme Court ruling in September 2017, which upheld Guerrero’s finding probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against De Lima, Dayan and Ragos.
It said the Muntinlupa court is bound to follow the Supreme Court ruling and should not have allowed the dropping of Ragos as co-accused.
Meanwhile, Magalong took the witness stand and testified regarding Oplan Cronus, a 2014 CIDG-led investigation into the illegal drug trade at NBP and “agaw bato,” a scheme by law enforcers whereby drugs confiscated were not fully reported and “substantial amount is being divided among them.”
He said they were able to identify NBP drug personalities like Vicente Sy, Peter Co and Tony Co who were involved in drug trading and controlling drug trade in the entire country.
After he referred the matter to De Lima, who was then the justice secretary, he said she convened a high-level meeting that included the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Armed Forces of the Philippines and PNP.
He also testified that then BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu dissuaded him from conducting the raid, quoting him as saying, “Huwag mo na lang sana ituloy kasi delikado pamilya ko.”
But he said he was surprised to learn a few days before the Dec. 15, 2014 raid that there would be an operation at NBP and it excluded the CIDG.
“I was really surprised,” he said.
While he said that the NBP raid led by De Lima was successful, it did not unearth other contrabands hidden in other cells at the maximum security compound.
When asked by the prosecution how he would rate the raid, Magalong said it was “relatively successful” and gave it a rating of 7 out of 10.
He said based on his intelligence reports, De Lima was not involved in illegal drug trading until the investigation of the House of Representatives was held in 2016 wherein NBP inmates alleged otherwise.
The defense and prosecution both welcomed Magalong’s testimony.
“Masaya kami dun sa testimony ni General Magalong kasi siya mismo nag-validate na walang kinalaman si Senator De Lima sa illegal drug trading sa loob ng New Bilibid Prisons,” said Boni Tacardon, De Lima’s legal counsel, and explained that was De Lima’s prerogative to include or not CIDG in the raid.
Makati City Assistant Prosecutor Rudy Ricamora described Magalong as “very credible” and added that dropping Ragos from the case “is the prerogative of the prosecution.”
Prosecutor Darwin Cañete said it was “irregular” that CIDG was excluded from the raid despite them having the intelligence reports on the drug trade at NBP.
Last September, Magalong testified as a prosecution witness in case 17-167 on conspiracy to trade illegal drugs filed against De Lima and six others.
In case 17-166, the defense has filed a motion to disqualify NBP prisoners as state witnesses, saying they are not qualified as they were convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude.
But Ricamora denied that NBP prisoners will be used by the prosecution as state witnesses.
“We are not utilizing them as state witness. We are utilizing them as ordinary witness,” he said.