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Ex-Senator De Lima’s last drug trafficking case reassigned

FORMER Senator Leila M. de Lima’s third and last illegal drug case has been reassigned after a judge granted a government motion to inhibit himself from the lawsuit.

Muntinlupa Presiding Judge Gener M. Gito will handle the case after it was raffled off on July 10, Filibon F. Tacardon, the ex-senator’s lawyer, told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday. The court has yet to announce the trial hearing.

In May last year, Mr. Gito dismissed a contempt case against the former lawmaker and her lawyers after state prosecutors accused Mr. Tacardon of making inaccurate statements about one of her drug cases.

Government prosecutors on July 5 asked Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara to inhibit himself from the case, arguing that his acquittal of Ms. De Lima in a separate drug case casts doubt on his impartiality.

“The undersigned presiding judge will exercise prudent discretion and voluntarily desist from hearing the case not because the prosecution’s assertion is true, but to put to rest any questions against his credibility, integrity and fairness,” according to a copy of his Mr. Alcantara’s order.

The former senator, who was arrested in 2017 and accused of taking drug money months after leading a Senate investigation into former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs, originally faced three charges and was also cleared in one case in 2021.

Mr. Alcantara cleared Ms. De Lima, one of Mr. Duterte’s staunchest critics and her former aide of the charges for reasonable doubt. The main witness, former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Z. Ragos, took back his testimony against her.

Four witnesses have retracted their testimonies against the former lawmaker, claiming that the previous government had coerced them into testifying against her.

Political experts have said Ms. De Lima’s detention showed how the state had abused the justice system.

Amnesty International has said the government had deprived the ex-senator of her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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