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Transfer of inmate-witnesses in De Lima’s final drug rap OK'd

MANILA, Philippines — A Muntinlupa court approved the transfer of the 11 witnesses in the third and last drug case of former Sen. Leila de Lima.

Judge Gener Gito of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 issued a resolution for the transfer of the witnesses, who are also inmates, from Sablayan Prison Camp in Occidental Mindoro to New Bilibid Prison's minimum security compound in Muntinlupa City.

The decision follows De Lima's November 21 motion, requesting the transfer of the seven inmate-witnesses.

The 11 inmate-witnesses to be transferred are:

In a letter penned on November 17 and addressed to De Lima, Agojo, Doniña, Patcho, Yuan, Durano, Pepino, and Tan expressed their intention to retract their testimonies against her. They cited enduring "unimaginable threats" when coerced to testify against the former senator.

In the same letter, they also sought transfer to a different detention facility.

"At this point, we would like to state that our participation as witnesses in the drug cases against former DOJ (Department of Justice) Secretary De Lima was vitiated by undue compulsion and influence, and thus, any judicial statement made by us, is void of lack of consent," the witnesses said in a signed letter dated Nov. 17, 2023.

On November 28, the prosecution filed for the transfer of all eleven witnesses, including the seven seeking to withdraw their testimonies and the four who had previously recanted, namely Magleo and Arile, last October.

The prosecution said that an immediate transfer of the inmate-witnesses to the National Billibid Prison would give “smooth and easy access” to them.

This is De Lima's last drug case in which she and her co-accused were granted temporary liberty on November 13 after the RTC allowed the former senator to post bail. 

She was cleared of the first two charges linked to her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade within the Billibid.

De Lima, known for staunchly criticizing former President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly campaign against illegal drugs, had been in detention since February 2017 until being granted bail last November.