De Lima accuses DOJ chief of dereliction of duty

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    DETAINED Sen. Leila de Lima yesterday accused Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra of “serious dereliction of duty” for his alleged failure to file criminal charges against a high-profile inmate at the New Bilibid Prison who had confessed to his involvement in the narcotics trade while inside the national penitentiary.

    De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ) should have charged prosecution witness Joel Capones for violation of the anti-drugs law after his confession before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court when he testified against the senator.

    “Mr. Joel Capones, when presented by the panel of prosecutors in the witness stand, confessed under oath and in open court that, together with his 13 mayores in Sigue Sigue Sputnik, he committed illegal drug trading within the New Bilibid Prison from January to October 2014. Curiously, Mr. Capones was not included as an accused in said case or any drug case for that matter,” De Lima said in a letter to Guevarra dated February 22.

    De Lima said the non-filing of charges against Capones was a mockery of the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs, and only tends to affirm public perception that the war on drugs “is only a war against the poor, the defenseless, and President Duterte’s political enemies.”

    “The inaction of the Department of Justice in holding Mr. Capones to account for his self-confessed criminal acts, despite knowledge of his culpability, is a serious dereliction of duty and puts in question the seriousness of the Duterte administration’s resolve in fighting crime and illegal drugs,” she said.

    “If only to fulfill the DOJ’s mandate, I strongly urge that you use all powers available under your office to prosecute anyone who has been involved in illegal drug trading in the National Bilibid Prison without any fear or favor, and to charge those responsible with utmost resolve, including Mr. Capones and his 13 mayores under the Sigue Sigue Sputnik Gang,” De Lima told Guevarra.

    Guevarra said he was only able to read De Lima’s letter yesterday morning. He said he would will take the matter “she (De Lima) brought to my attention on advisement.”

    Capones was among the 13 high-profile inmates at the NBP who testified against de Lima during the House hearing on illegal drugs trading inside the national penitentiary in 2016.

    He is serving reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment at the national penitentiary.

    In last week’s hearing, Capones said De Lima received P1.4 million from another high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian in March 2014, allegedly to help fund her 2016 senatorial run.

    De Lima has long denied involvement in the narcotics trade, insisting she was a victim of political persecution by Duterte.

    During yesterday’s hearing, Prosecutor Ramon Bienvenido Ocampo Jr. said the De Lima camp failed to destroy the probative value of Capones’ testimony. The witness testified before Branch 256 of the Muntinlupa City RTC which is handling one of two drug cases that remains pending against the senator.

    Ocampo said Capones reiterated what he told the court last week that he saw De Lima receive the P1.4 million from Sebastian inside the latter’s quarters at the NBP on March 5, 2014. The money was allegedly a “quota payment” from the illegal drugs that he sold inside the penitentiary.

    Meanwhile, De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon belittled Capones’ testimony and said the witness has “selective memory.”

    “He doesn’t remember things that would tend to taint the credibility of his statement,” Tacardon said, adding that Capones in his affidavit stated that he saw De Lima receiving money from Sebastian but on cross-examination, he said he only saw Sebastian show the money to her.

    Tacardon said the defense team questioned Capones why his previous affidavits in 2016 and on July last year failed to mentioned the alleged P1.4 million he claimed the senator received from Sebastian.

    Tacardon said the team also asked the court to include Capones as respondent in the case for his confession that he was involved in the illegal drugs trade inside the national prison.