De Lima sues Guevarra, Aguirre over protection given to convicts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — Embattled Senator Leila De Lima has filed a complained against Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and his predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre.

De Lima is accusing both of graft, gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct — among other violations — for the alleged illegal admission of certain individuals to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Witness Protection Program (WPP).

The complaint was filed on October 29 before the Office of the Ombudsman.

In it, the senator questioned the admission of 11 convicted felons to the WPP.

Among those named in the complaint were Peter Co, Herbert Colangco and Noel Martinez, who are convicted drug lords.

In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte named Co as one of the "top three drug lords" in the country.

Colangco and Martinez, meanwhile, were among the witnesses called to testify against De Lima at a September 2016 hearing at the House of Representatives.

Citing Republic Act (RA) 6981 or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, the senator said individuals convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude cannot be admitted to the WPP.

"Yet, despite all the requirements provided under RA 6981, Secretary Aguirre recommended and even insisted that the convicted felons be admitted into the program as state witnesses, in clear contravention of the law," the complaint read.

In a statement Tuesday, Guevarra said he had yet to read the complaint filed by De Lima.

"I will read the complaint first. But I understand that the coverage, upon recommendation of the legislative committee, was for the legislative inquiry into the illegal drug trade at the NBP. I was not even with the DOJ at that time," he said.

Aguirre granted the convicted felons immunity back in 2016 when they testified in a congressional inquiry on the supposed proliferation of illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during De Lima's time as justice secretary.

Their testimonies led to the filing of drug related complaints against the opposition senator before the DOJ, which were eventually filed before the courts and resulted in her arrest and detention in Camp Crame.

De Lima said Guevarra, who took Aguirre's place in April this year, is also liable because he is continuing their illegal admission to the WPP.

She said the Justice chief has been notified that the criminals convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude were illegally admitted as state witnesses but he chose to ignore this fact.

"As such, the proper response was to remove them as beneficiaries. Still he has refused and is unwilling to do so," De Lima said.

Moreover, De Lima noted that both Guevarra and Aguirre failed to indict these criminals for illegal drug trading inside the NBP, despite their confessions under oath.

She previously filed a similar complaint against Aguirre in July 2017 but that remains pending before the Ombudsman.