MANILA -- The Department of Justice (DoJ) dropped the charges filed against former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Rafael Ragos in connection with the illegal drug trafficking raps filed before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court against Sen. Leila de Lima for allegedly taking part and benefitting from the supposed illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.

State prosecutors led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong filed an amended charge sheet before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204, naming only De Lima and her ex-lover Ronnie Dayan as the accused.
In the amended charge sheet, De Lima and Dayan are being charged for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, which is a violation of Section 26 (b) in relation to Section 5, Section 3 (jj) and Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

State prosecutors accused De Lima of conspiring and confederating with Dayan to commit illegal drug trading in the national penitentiary.

“The inmates of the (NBP), not being authorized by law and through the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices, willfully and unlawfully traded and trafficked dangerous drugs,” the charge sheet read.

“Thereafter (the inmates) gave and delivered to De Lima and/through Dayan, the proceeds of illegal drug trading amounting to PHP5 million on 24 November 2012 and another P5 million on 15 December 2012,” it stated.

Motion for reconsideration

Ragos filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration before the DOJ claiming that he cannot be indicted for violation of R.A. 9165 owing to his admission into the Witness Protection, Security Benefits Program (WPSBP) and for disclosing that he delivered PHP10 million in drug payoffs to then Justice Secretary De Lima her former driver-bodyguard, Dayan, in separate occasions.

”With the foregoing disclosures and his admissions into the WPSBP, the undersigned panel of prosecutors recommends that Ragos be excluded from the information in criminal case no. 17-165. The other grounds relied upon by respondent Ragos in assailing the joint resolution dated February 14, 2017 are, thus rendered moot and academic,” read the 11-page joint resolution signed by Ong.

Ragos testified in a House inquiry last year that PHP5 million of the money he had delivered went to Dayan in the senator’s residence in South Bay Village in November 2012. Ragos claimed he saw Dayan hand the bag over to De Lima.

The former BuCor chief supervised the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) where drug kingpins operated their colossal narcotics trade, with alleged protection from De Lima, according to the drug charges.

Ragos claimed that De Lima “would normally respond with a nod” to the requests of inmates for celebration inside the NBP, which he would “casually mention” when he had the opportunity.

After the Muntinlupa Trial Court ordered his arrest over drug charges, Ragos surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on February 26. He was then taken to a secure detention cell inside the NBI Headquarters.

State witness

During Thursday's hearing, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo, a member of the DOJ’s team of prosecutors handling the drug cases, said that charges will be dropped against Ragos as he will be turned into a prosecution witness.

But the camp of De Lima asked the Muntinlupa RTC to deny for “utter lack of merit” the bid of the DOJ to amend the drug trafficking charges against the lady senator.

In a 17-page opposition, lawyers of De Lima said the DOJ, through the National Prosecution Service (NPS) is not simply amending the charges but substituting a new case.

On February 2017, De Lima and her nephew Jose Adrian Dera have been charged with a case for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act, specifically Section 5 in relation to Section 3 (jj), Sections 26 (b) and 28.

Section 5 prohibits the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals.”

Section 3(jj) refers to trading of illegal drugs. On the other hand, Section 26 pertains to “any attempt or conspiracy” to import, sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, distribute and transport illegal drugs, and maintain a drug den, produce narcotics and cultivate sources of illicit substances while Section 28 covers the criminal liability of public officials involved in the proliferation of narcotics.

However, state prosecutors decided last month to file an amended information asking the court to instead charge the two of conspiracy to sell, trade illegal drugs.

The DOJ opted to amend the information after Solicitor General Jose Calida said that the lady senator should have been charged for violation of Section 26 of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, instead of violation of Section 5 of the said law.

Delima asks to junk DOJ bid

In their opposition, the De Lima camp explained that the crime of “conspiracy to trade drugs” is distinct and different from the offense of “drug trading.”

“The evidence sufficient to justify a conviction for “conspiracy to trade drugs” cannot be enough to support a guilty verdict for “drug trading.”

“The two (2) offenses are not the same where “conspiracy to trade drugs” is separately criminalized under Section 26 of RA 9165, while “drug trading” is penalized under Section 5 of the same law. The operative act in “conspiracy to trade drugs” is the agreement and decision to commit the crime; while the gravamen in “drug trading” is the trafficking of dangerous drugs, precursors or essential chemicals with the use of electronic devices, or with the facilitation of a broker,” read the Senator’s opposition.

The De Lima camp said the DoJ failed to explain why they the composition of the investigating panel changed or why was the accusation amended.

They added that the Senator was not given the opportunity to respond.

“The right of accused De Lima to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against her was definitely violated,” the opposition stated.

Meanwhile, Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero rescheduled the arraignment of De Lima and Dayan to January 24, 2018.

Separate cases for three counts of drug trafficking were filed against De Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC which were assigned to three different courts.

The cases for sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were assigned to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.

The first case in Branch 204 includes De Lima, Dayan and Ragos.

De Lima is joined by her nephew Dera in the second case in Branch 205.

The third case in Branch 206 is against De Lima, Dera, Dayan, former BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, his alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli, high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, and DeLima's former bodyguard Jonel Sanchez. (PNA)