WAS Ronnie Dayan trying to save his own skin?
This was the question raised by a number of lawmakers after the much-awaited testimony on Thursday of the former driver, bodyguard and lover of Sen. Leila de Lima before a House of Representatives inquiry into the illegal drug trade.
Dayan admitted to accepting cash from alleged drug kingpin Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. on de Lima’s behalf, but denied collecting money from prison inmates to finance the senatorial campaign of de Lima, who was Justice secretary in the previous administration.
Dayan also claimed he didn’t know Espinosa was a “drug lord” in Eastern Visayas.
“I’ve met Kerwin Espinosa for five times, and he gives me a small paper bag [with money]. I don’t count it though, and Kerwin does not tell me the amount of the money for Ma’am [de Lima],” Dayan told lawmakers in Filipino.
On Wednesday, Espinosa told a Senate investigation that he gave as much as P8 million to de Lima through Dayan between February to October 2015.
But Dayan contradicted this, saying he met Espinosa four times at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay between August and October 2014, and for the fifth time in November 2014 in Baguio City.
“She (de Lima) just sends me a text message about the person I am about to meet. I was told he (Espinosa) was an engineer and I really thought he was an engineer. I did not know that Kerwin was a drug lord,” Dayan said of the 36-year-old Espinosa.
“It’s Kerwin who gave me the money. I then gave it to Ma’am when I get home, inside her bedroom, because I know it is a secret,” he added.
Dayan testified that he and de Lima lived together from 2010 until they broke up in January 2015, when the relationship turned sour.
“I just receive the money, sir. I just follow instructions,” Dayan told the lawmakers.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, head of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs that grilled Espinosa on Wednesday, said the alleged drug kingpin’s testimony had many loose ends that needed tying up to convince senators.
Lacson said it was unclear how Dayan was able to contact Espinosa. Albuera, Leyte police head Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido has denied introducing Dayan to Espinosa.
“I cannot imagine. Gusto kong malaman paano nakilala ni Espenido si Dayan [I want to know how Espenido knew Dayan]. So as of now if you will ask me what is my assessment, I have doubts on the veracity of Kerwin’s testimonies,” Lacson said.
Not a bagman
Dayan belied the earlier testimony of New Bilibid Prison inmates that he received millions from acting director Rafael Ragos of the Bureau of Corrections for delivery to de Lima.
Dayan said he only saw Ragos giving something to de Lima two times. The first incident involved a brown envelope, and the second, a white plastic bag that contained what looked like a shoebox.
“It is not true that I received P3 million, P5 million, P1.6 million from Ragos. All I know is that Ragos gave [an envelope and a plastic bag]to Secretary de Lima. I did not know what’s inside,” Dayan said.
Lastly, Dayan denied rubbing elbows with New Bilibid Prison inmates Rodolfo Magleo and Herbert Colanggo as well as NBI agent Junior Ablen and former policeman Engelberto Durano, who all claimed to have given money to de Lima through Dayan.
Durano claimed de Lima got protection money from slain drug lord Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz through Dayan.
Rep. Paulino Salvador Leachon of Oriental Mindoro said Dayan’s testimony was not entirely truthful.
“Your affidavit is that of a macho man trying to impress some veracity to be able to absolve yourself and Senator de Lima. I don’t know if I will be voting for your liberty,” Leachon told Dayan during the inquiry.
Representatives Juliet Ferrer of Negros Occidental and Gus Tambunting of Parañaque were just as perplexed as Leachon.
“Going by your affidavit, it seems that you have no knowledge of the drug trade in Bilibid and yet you claim to be so close with her (de Lima). How can you not know that it is not drug money?” Ferrer said.
“Your inconsistent testimony just shows that while you might have told us truths, you also have a lot of secrets to keep. That’s why you can’t blame us if we are doubting your credibility,” Tambunting said.
Dayan, however, was adamant he had told the truth. He claimed he was hesitant to testify before the House inquiry out of fear of politicians in his home province of Pangasinan who were accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being drug protectors.
“I fear a lot of people…the politicians in my hometown…because they think I was the one who linked them to the drug matrix revealed by President Duterte,” Dayan said.
Contempt vs de Lima
Lawmakers then trained their guns on de Lima, issuing a show-cause order against the senator for her apparent attempt to dissuade Dayan from testifying in the House probe.
ABS party-list Rep. Eugene de Vera sought the show-cause order after Dayan testified that de Lima had advised him against complying with the House Justice panel summons.
Dayan said de Lima sent the request through a text message to his daughter, Hannah Mae. De Lima, he said, was concerned the House probe would become a spectacle in which both of them would be put to shame.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso said: “The mere fact that a member of the upper house texted a resource person not to go [to the House probe], is already a violation of inter-parliamentary courtesy.”
House Justice panel chief Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro backed his colleagues’ request.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque called for harsher punishment for the senator: her removal from the Senate.
“She has prevented an appearance of a vital witness after she has accused this committee of launching a witch-hunt and being a kangaroo court. And yet she caused this witness not to heed our invitation. I hope our colleagues in the Senate are aware of the seriousness of this. A sitting senator is preventing a key witness in a legislative investigation. This is concealing the truth,” Roque said.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte said de Lima was guilty of violating Section 11 of the House rules in which a person could be cited for contempt for interfering in legislative proceedings.