Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 14 September 2019


I sat, at first puzzled, then shocked and unbelieving, and finally cursing loudly, as I watched the Senate hearings on the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and the corruption in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) morph into a Crush-Leila-de-Lima star chamber. No, it was worse than a star chamber, Reader, because De Lima was not even present, as she was torn to pieces and hung out to dry (pardon the mixed metaphors) by witnesses Rafael Ragos and Jovencio Ablen Jr., egged on by Senators Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson and Francis Tolentino.

I got a copy of the transcript of Thursday’s hearing, and noted that out of 325 pages (the transcript of the meeting itself started at page 9, so it was actually 316 pages), 100 pages or almost one-third of the proceedings were devoted to the Ragos-Ablen testimony.

Who is Ragos? (Ablen is his sidekick, but they previously fought each other. I don’t know if they have reconciled. It didn’t look that way, judging from the Senate hearings.)

1) Ragos was OIC (appointed by De Lima) of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) from “the last week of November 2012 to the second week of February 2013” (his words)—a stint of 2 months and 3 weeks. He was deputy director of the NBI. Question: Why choose him as a witness for the corruption at the BuCor, when he was there for such a short period? Maybe because he had been assigned by De Lima to “study the criminality happening inside the maximum.” But there were other BuCor chiefs, serving longer, who could have been called.

 2) On reports of corruption at the NBI, P-Noy did not reappoint Ragos as deputy director.

3) During the House inquiry in September to October 2016, some inmates pointed to Ragos as the one who directed them to provide weekly “tara” (payoffs) from their illicit businesses in the NBP. The inmate testimony was voluntary against Ragos.

5) The NBI apparently objected to Ragos’ motion at the DOJ (claiming that Ragos was most guilty in the illicit trade in the NBP). The DOJ, however, ignored the NBI objection, and proceeded to exclude Ragos from the charge sheet. The court accepted the exclusion. The cards were being stacked against De Lima.

 6) Ragos (and Ablen) later testified in court against De Lima. They made use of their affidavits submitted in the House inquiry and the DOJ’s preliminary investigation. These were the same affidavits used in the Senate hearing on Thursday (Sept. 12).

7) Apparently, Ragos is still with the NBI, although per the Thursday Senate hearings, he and Ablen are in the witness protection program, which provides that their testimonies cannot be used against them. Notwithstanding, the Senate also gave them legislative immunity. In my dictionary, that is like giving them the absolute impunity to lie. How convenient.

So, Reader, this is the background of the witnesses whose testimony was accepted, as if pure as driven snow. The Senate knew that these men had already testified in court against De Lima. But they allowed them to testify again, without giving a sitting senator the courtesy and opportunity to be heard.

Why? Let me hazard a guess, Reader. It may be pure coincidence. But Gordon, Lacson and Tolentino, if you recall, may have axes to grind against De Lima. Gordon, because De Lima insisted on bringing Matobato and Lascañas (Davao Death Squad) to the Senate hearings, whose testimonies against the President had to be stopped. Lacson, because De Lima as justice secretary ordered his arrest for the Kuratong Baleleng case. Tolentino, with 1.3 million votes behind De Lima in the 2016 elections, accused her of cheating.

All three against Leila. She could take them all on, and win. Only, she’s in jail. So they’re safe.