POSTSCRIPT / October 11, 2022 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Marcos, De Lima can try conciliatory talk

Transferring former senator Leila de Lima to another detention site may reduce the threats to her life, but not necessarily ensure the fair and speedy resolution of the drugs-related charges filed against her by the previous administration.

Former senator Leila de Lima may be given an option to be confined at another site after she was held hostage Sunday by a fellow detainee at the PNP custodial center in Camp Crame.

On Sunday, De Lima survived an attempt by a fellow detainee at Camp Crame’s custodial center to take her hostage. The police shot him dead in the 30-minute standoff, with his two companions having been gunned down earlier.

When the smoke cleared, President Ferdinand Marcos took to Twitter and said: “Following this morning’s incident at Camp Crame, I will be speaking to Senator De Lima to check on her condition and to ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention center.”

Merely moving the senator from Camp Crame, where she has been locked up for the past five years, is no guarantee that the ends of justice will be served. Nevertheless, we take in good faith the President’s reaching out to her.

De Lima remains in custody and is still facing two drug cases, with a third already dropped in 2021, despite the retraction of statements by individuals being used as witnesses against her.

Presuming mutual good faith, Marcos and De Lima can find common ground on the less contentious topic of where the former senator may stay in detention which, per precedents, could be at her residence or in a hospital, under certain conditions.

From that tentative first step, a wide field of other concerns could open up or suggest themselves – don’t rush it – as both sides hold on to their bona fides in the context of what will serve the public interest best.

Malacañang’s Press Office said that Marcos has ordered the Philippine National Police to “enforce all measures necessary to ensure that no act of violence in the said facility and all other PNP detention centers shall happen again.”

* * *

The PNP said the slain hostage-taker, Feliciano Sulayao Jr., together with fellow detainees Arnel Cabintoy and Idang Susukan tried to escape from the custodial center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Susukan is a sub-commander in the Emir Sawadjaan faction of the Abu Sayyaf terror group and brother of the late Mujib Susukan who was involved in the Sipadan kidnapping.

The Sipadan drama began with the seizing of 21 hostages from the dive resort island of Sipadan in Sabah at 6:15 p.m. on April 23, 2000, by up to six Abu Sayyaf terrorists. The victims were transported to various places in the southern Philippines.

Cabintoy and Sulayao are balik-Islam Abu Sayyaf members arrested by ISAFP intelligence operatives in Culiat, Quezon City, with guns and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The three detainees in the Crame incident were facing murder and kidnapping charges.

But police officers guarding the facility sent them to their promised paradise where 72 virgins are supposed to be waiting for martyrs or holy warriors and suicide bombers.

Marginal note: A Hamas activist, Muhammad Abu Wardeh, was interviewed in 2001 by the American TV channel CBS. Presenting himself as a recruiter of suicide bombers in Israel, he talked of his come-on to a prospective human bomb:

“I described to him how God would compensate the martyr for sacrificing his life for his land. God will give you 70 virgins, 70 wives, and everlasting happiness.”

His number 70 does not jibe with that of most other accounts, which is that among the rewards promised for martyrs were 72 virgins.

The trio in the De Lima drama should have been told before they claim their reward in heaven that the 72 virgins were promised to martyrs, including suicide bombers – not to hostage-takers.

* * *

A fly in the conciliation ointment is the government’s preventing a witness who has recanted his statements linking De Lima to drug trafficking from freely affirming his retraction on the witness stand.

Five months since signing and announcing his recantation, former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos appeared Friday at the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 to affirm his sworn statement – but was blocked.

Ragos said he was just coerced by then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and his subordinates to testify that De Lima received payoffs from convicted drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison.

De Lima has denied the charges, calling them “political vendetta” for her criticizing then President Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign and his human rights record as Davao City mayor.

Ragos’ lawyer Michael de Castro told reporters, who were barred from covering the trial, that the Department of Justice had moved for the reconsideration of a court order that would have allowed him to take the stand.

But DOJ lawyers said “recantations are typically viewed with suspicion and hardly given much weight.” They said calling him back to the stand would be “procedurally erroneous” and “will only make a mockery of justice under the circumstances.”

The witness’ lawyer also moved to erase from court records his three affidavits submitted to build the cases against De Lima. He said the documents were executed under duress and not in the presence of an attorney of his choice.

Under the Constitution, he pointed out, confessions signed without an independent and competent lawyer assisting the person can be stricken off. His recantation is just like an additional detail, he said.

De Lima, who was present in Friday’s hearing, said: “We just have to respect the processes of the court. We are confident that (Ragos) will be able to testify.”

These details are part of the legal thicket that Marcos and De Lima, or their representatives, may want to also sort out after agreeing, in the meantime, where she should be confined in secured detention.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 11, 2022)

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