The Department of Justice (DOJ) has formed a panel to review the dismissal of the drug charges filed against Lim, Espinosa and other respondents by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). Photo

Duterte: Aguirre to replace Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim in jail if…
Edu Punay, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 14, 2018 - 12:01am

DOJ review panel formed

MANILA, Philippines — Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim and self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa are not yet off the hook despite the dismissal of drug charges against them, Malacañang and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has formed a panel to review the dismissal of the drug charges filed against Lim, Espinosa and other respondents by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

Aguirre formed the panel as President Duterte, according to his spokesman, warned that the DOJ chief would replace Lim and Espinosa in jail if the two were cleared: “Pag nakawala yan si Lim at Espinosa, siya ang ipapalit ko.”

In a Twitter post last night, presidential spokesman Harry Roque quoted Duterte as saying, “I will invoke my power of supervision and control and will dismissal.”

Duterte was reportedly puzzled over the dismissal when  Espinosa had admitted at a congressional hearing that he was a drug distributor: “Nag-amin na nga sa Congress. Why not admit it as evidence against him?”

Aguirre said the dismissal was not yet final, and the review panel he formed, whose members he would announce today, would handle the motion for reconsideration that the PNP-CIDG is expected to file.

“The current status of the case against respondents Peter Lim et al does not mean that it is a final exoneration of their respective criminal liabilities. Under our present procedure in the DOJ, there are possible avenues to review this case, whether by a motion for reconsideration or, ultimately, by way of automatic review by my office,” he said.

Aguirre said the complainant even has the option of challenging the DOJ’s resolution through a petition for review before the Court of Appeals, as in ordinary cases as provided by the Rules of Court.

He clarified his office “has no hand nor say” on the resolution by the investigating panel of prosecutors that dismissed all charges against Lim and Espinosa for lack of probable cause. 

Aguirre refused to tackle merits of the case, saying, “It will eventually be the subject of an automatic review which I will resolve.”

Under DOJ procedures, the secretary of justice only decides on criminal charges once the cases are elevated to his office via petition for review or automatic review in cases of dismissed drug charges.

Aguirre admitted the dismissal of the charges against Lim and Espinosa – whom President Duterte had previously tagged in illegal drug operations in the country – would somehow have an impact on the administration’s war on drugs.

“This dismissal is a slight bump in the war against drugs. It is likewise a wake-up call to all concerned that our efforts, from apprehension to resolution to conviction, must be concerted and thorough,” he said.

Aguirre said many drug cases are dismissed due to bungled investigation by law enforcers.

Still, he vowed the DOJ remains “committed to waging the war on drugs” despite the setback.

In its resolution dated Dec. 20, 2017 but only obtained by reporters last Monday, the DOJ faulted the PNP-CIDG for presenting weak evidence and the “inconsistencies” in the testimony of a lone witness as reasons for dismissal of the charges.

The witness Marcelo Adorco claimed that Lim had supplied narcotics in “staggering amounts” to Espinosa for more than two years.

Assistant State Prosecutors Michael John Humarang and Aristotle Reyes, who is now a judge, said Adorco’s claims were contrary to the “standards of human experience and the logical course of reality.” 

The DOJ prosecutors also cited as basis the complainant’s “failure to present any circumstantial evidence to prove respondents’ illegal drug transactions.”

Also cleared by the DOJ apart from Lim and Espinosa were inmate Peter Co, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito and Lovely Adam Impal.

Lim, for his part, thanked the DOJ for clearing him of the drug charges.

In a statement, Lim’s spokesman Jun Fuentes said the DOJ resolution dismissing the complaint was somehow expected since Aguirre had publicly said earlier that the kumpare and campaign contributor of President Duterte was not the “alias Jaguar” identified in the drug cartel matrix.

“Mr. Peter Lim thanks the DOJ for rendering a just resolution because after all, the pronouncements of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II which found headline in Cebu Daily News on Oct. 1, 2016, is correct,” Fuentes said.

In the report, Aguirre was quoted as saying that there was a lapse in the drug matrix released by the President in July 2016 because Lim – listed as one of the top drug lords in the country – was not Jaguar.

Aguirre reportedly said Jaguar was actually drug lord Jeffrey Diaz, who was killed by police in Las Piñas City in June 2016.

Lim’s camp also lauded the DOJ for rejecting the testimony of Adoro, who claimed he met with Lim and Espinosa in Thailand on June 4, 2015 where they supposedly discussed the delivery of 50 kilos of shabu. 

Fuentes said Lim was able to prove in preliminary investigation that he did not go to Thailand at around that date.

Not yet

Earlier, Roque had said Malacañang was “worried” over the dismissal of the charges.

“We would like to assure the public that the dismissal is far from being final,” Roque said. 

Police spokesman Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said the PNP is saddened by the dismissal of the case. He said the CIDG is searching for additional witnesses and evidence for the case review.

Bulalacao admitted that the dismissal was a setback in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

Ozamiz City police head Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, who was the chief of police of Albuera town in Leyte when Espinosa’s father was killed, maintained that the PNP has a strong case against Kerwin Espinosa.

Espenido said the case they filed against Espinosa was different from the case filed by the CIDG that was dismissed for lack of probable cause.

“The drug trafficking case that we filed against Espinosa was the result of the buy-bust operations against them where Marcelo Adorco made the admission tagging (Kerwin) Espinosa plus charges of illegal possession of firearms,” he said.

Espenido said the other case against Espinosa stemmed from a raid on his house in Albuera on Aug. 10, 2016, where P88 million worth of illegal drugs and several high-powered firearms were seized.

For his part, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay believed the dismissal of the charges was proof of the political nature of the war on drugs of the Duterte administration, which he termed as a “fake war.”

Hilbay compared the case to the charges against detained Sen. Leila de Lima.

“The DOJ was able to use basic requirements of corpus delicti and the need for credible witnesses in their case, matters that were conveniently dropped by the DOJ in Senator De Lima’s case. The amendment of the charges, the use of disqualified witnesses, dispensing with the need for evidence – these are all signs of political persecution in the case of Senator De Lima,” Hilbay argued.

Espenido agreed that the dismissal of the case could lead to the release of De Lima from detention.

“The case against Senator De Lima could also be dismissed because Kerwin, in this case, is not a drug lord,” he said.

On De Lima

Roque, however, stressed the dismissal of the charges against the drug suspects would not affect the case against De Lima. 

“The basis of the case filed against Leila de Lima is different... In (the case of Lim and Espinosa), the DOJ said there is no probable cause. But in the case of Leila de Lima, the (regional trial court) is not the only one that declared that there is probable cause. Even the judiciary said there is probable cause,” Roque said.  

Roque also denied that the charges against the drug suspects were dismissed in exchange for their testifying against De Lima. 

“There is no need to dismiss the case because they can be granted immunity. I don’t think it is related,” Roque said. 

“What is important is to ensure that the decision to dismiss was based on evidence and if not, authorities will do something to pursue the case,” he added. 

He said there are other witnesses who would testify against De Lima, who faces charges of receiving money from convicted drug lords.

Roque also described as unfair claims that Lim was cleared because he is a kumpadre or co-sponsor of Duterte. 

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed alarm over the dropping of charges against Espinosa and Lim.

“One of the suspects is a self-confessed drug pusher. In fact, he’s the one who testified against Senator De Lima, whom they claimed received money out of drugs,” Robredo said.

Robredo was referring to Espinosa, who claimed during a Senate hearing in November 2016 that he gave De Lima a total of P8 million for her senatorial campaign through her former driver Ronnie Dayan.

“What are they saying now? The case was dismissed because there was no sufficient evidence that (Espinosa) is involved in the illegal drug trade, when he himself was the one who admitted it,” Robredo said.

“What does this say? This is worrisome because the most important for all of us is the rule of law and our trust in the institutions,” she said. “If the DOJ selects what case to file or not, not based on evidence but based on personal belief, this is alarming. If this is the kind of decision they make, then there’s already a question whether or not to trust the office.”

Opposition lawmakers also said the dismissal of the case could lead to the release of De Lima.

“Senator De Lima should have been released a long time ago. While the cases against Espinosa and Lim are separate from that of Senator de Lima, it’s worth noting that testimonies of Espinosa who claimed he gave protection money to then DOJ Secretary De Lima were used to support DOJ’s case against the senator,” Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. pointed out.

Now, the DOJ is saying it lacks evidence against Espinosa, he said.

With the dismissal of the drug-related case against Espinosa, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said it is “now clear that charges against Senator de Lima won’t hold water.”

“Even the testimonies of convicted drug lords in New Bilibid Prison against the senator can’t be used in court as their words have no value in rules of evidence,” Villarin said. – Jess Diaz, Helen Flores, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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