By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

GOVERNMENT prosecutors have asked a Muntinlupa trial court to reconsider its acquittal of former Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s staunchest critics, for drug trafficking.

In a motion dated May 27, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said the retraction of former prison chief Rafael Z. Ragos is not enough to acquit her.

“To set aside a testimony which was solemnly taken before a court of justice in an open and free trial… simply because one of the witnesses who had given testimony, later on, changed his mind would simply make a mockery of our criminal justice system,” according to a copy of the plea. “This clearly raises doubt as to the motive behind the sudden retraction.”

Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the government could not appeal the acquittal since it is against the rule of double jeopardy, which prevents someone who has been acquitted of being charged with the same crime.

“The court cannot take a second look at its decision because it is immediately final,” he said in a Viber message.

“De Lima’s defense team will be filing a motion to expunge the motion for reconsideration,” her legal team said in a Viber message. “The motion is a mere scrap of paper because the proceedings have already been concluded with finality with the judgment of acquittal.”

“Nothing short of a Supreme Court decision reopening the case can vest the judge with jurisdiction anew to alter a judgment of acquittal which is final and executory immediately, hence unappealable, whether by motion for reconsideration with the trial court or appeal to a higher court,” it added.

In their plea, prosecutors said Mr. Ragos’ original statements in court and before Congress on the illegal drug trade showed “solid proof that there are individuals who assented to these illegal activities and eventually benefitted from them.”

The court on May 12 acquitted Ms. De Lima and her former aide of drug trafficking charges, citing reasonable doubt.

The former lawmaker, who has been in jail since 2017, faces one more illegal drug case. A trial court dismissed her first drug case in 2021.

In February, Mr. Ragos took back his allegations in open court, saying he had been coerced by a former Justice chief into testifying against Ms. De Lima.

Four witnesses have recanted their testimonies about Ms. De Lima’s alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade. All have claimed to have been coerced by the Duterte government into giving false testimonies.

In 2016, Ms. De Lima led a Senate probe into vigilante-style killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was still mayor and vice mayor of the city. She was arrested a year later after allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade.

The former senator has asserted her innocence, saying she was being tried for criticizing the government’s deadly drug war. Last year, the Ombudsman cleared her and her former aide of bribery charges for lack of evidence.

Amnesty International has said the trial court’s decision was “long overdue,” and urged the government to immediately drop the former lawmaker’s remaining drug case.

The global watchdog said the government deprived Ms. De Lima of her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention.

Political experts have said her detention showed how the government had abused the justice system.

At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June 2021. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.