Six controversial cases that earned Aguirre criticism

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Six controversial cases that earned Aguirre criticism
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has faced resignation calls before, but on the morning of April 4, The STAR reported that President Rodrigo Duterte is likely to announce the firing of the justice chief this week.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Controversy has hounded lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre II in the nearly two years that he has headed the Department of Justice.

Aguirre, whose appointment had been announced even before Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte took his oath as president, has faced resignation calls before. The chief executive has always said that the Justice chief continues to enjoy his trust.

The two are fraternity brothers in the Lex Talionis Fraternity of the San Beda College of Law. Duterte, who sometimes tells stories about how he did not get stellar grades as a student, has even hailed Aguirre for being the valedictorian of their class.

On Wednesday morning, The STAR reported that Duterte has axed Aguirre. The Palace, at noon, however said that it has yet to receive word from Duterte on the matter.

Here is a rundown of the more controversial cases the Aguirre-led DOJ has handled:

De Lima drug case

Aguirre’s predecessor, Sen. Leila De Lima, has been detained at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Quezon City for more than a year over drug charges filed against her.

De Lima is one of the most vocal of Duterte's critics, and she has claimed — inaccurately — that she is the first political prisoner under the administration.

She has been detained since Feb. 24, 2017 but has yet to be arraigned. State prosecutors initially indicted her on drug trading, but have moved to amend the charge sheet to conspiracy to commit drug trading.

The senator is accused of letting the drug trade proliferate inside the New Bilbid Prison under her watch as Justice secretary. The cases emanated from testimonies of inmates during a legislative inquiry into the matter.

Several inmates, including confessed drug trader Kerwin Espinosa, have been admitted to the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program in relation to the case.

READ: DOJ wants De Lima drug cases consolidated

Bureau of Immigration bribery controversy

In 2016, two commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration were embroiled in an extortion controversy.

The Bureau of Immigration is an attached agency of the DOJ.

Al Argosino and Michael Robles were accused of extorting P50 million from gaming tycoon Jack Lam in exchange of release of 1,316 Chinese employees of Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino.

Aguirre has denied knowledge of the alleged exchange between the immigration commissioners and the tycoon.

The Office of the Ombudsman charged the two commissioners with plunder.

Argosino and Robles, whom Duterte axed because of the controversy, are members of Lex Talionis.

READ: Ombudsman indicts ex-Immigration execs on plunder

Downgrading of charges in Espinosa slay

The Office of the Justice Secretary, acting on a review filed by Supt. Marvin Marcos, downgraded an earlier charge of murder over the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in government custody to homicide.

Marcos and 10 of his men from the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 were earlier charged with two counts of murder over the deaths of Espinosa and inmate Raul Yap.

The two were killed while in detention in a sub-provincial jail in Leyte in November 2016.

But the Office of the Justice Secretary amended the complaint and indicted the CIDG officers for homicide instead.

The National Bureau of Investigation, an attached agency of the DOJ, said in its own findings that Espinosa was killed in a "rub out" — a euphemism for a killing — and not a shootout as the cops claimed.

The change of charge allowed Marcos to post bail and return to active service.

READ: DOJ downgrades case vs Espinosa killers to homicide

P6.4-billion shabu shipment case

Several officials of the Bureau of Customs, including its former chief Nicanor Faeldon, were implicated in a P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped past the agency in December 2016.

The DOJ's resolution on the complaint, however, only indicted customs broker Mark Taguba and other traders for drug importation, under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The state prosecutors, led by Aristotle Reyes, former assistant state prosecutor and now Lucena court judge, said they cleared Faeldon because the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency filed a weak complaint.

The case is pending review before the Office of the Justice Secretary because of a department order that all dismissed drug cases must undego review by the Justice secretary.

Faeldon tendered his resignation three times before Duterte accepted it. The firebrand leader, who vowed to rid the country of drugs, had this to say when Faeldon stepped down: “From the tone of his resignation, he’s very disappointed but I really believe he is an honest man.”

Duterte has since reappointed Faeldon as deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense.

READ: DOJ clears Faeldon over P6.4-B BOC shabu

Peter Lim, Kerwin Espinosa drug case

Citing “weak evidence” presented by the police, state prosecutors dropped drug raps against Espinosa as well as Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim, inmate Peter Co and a dozen others.

Reyes, and Assistant State Prosecutor Michael John Humarang stressed that the police relied on inconsistent testimonies from Marcelo Adorco, their only witness, in filing their complaint.

Aguirre stood by the prosecutors’ resolution, stressing that the police filed a weak case anchored on the testimony of just one witness.

The PNP has admitted that they did not attach Espinosa’s confession to their complaint, a piece of evidence that would have helped pin the confessed drug dealer down.

The resolution drew the ire of Duterte, who berated Aguirre for the Department of Justice seemingly mishandling the case.The Justice chief has created a new panel of prosecutors to handle the case.

The DOJ has already sent summonses to the respondents, and is set to conduct preliminary investigation on April 12.

READ: DOJ clears Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim of drug raps

PDAF reinvestigation

Aguirre has reopened the probe into the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

The new probe emanated from the complaint filed by Presidential Anti-Corruption Commissioner Greco Belgica.

Tagged in the complaint are Aquino and several of his former officials.

Following this probe, Janet Lim-Napoles, alleged brains behind the multibillion-peso scam, has been provisionally admitted under the DOJ’s witness protection program on Feb. 27.

The Office of the Ombudsman has put its foot down and said that it will have the final say on Napoles’ admission as state witness.

READ: Janet Lim Napoles now enjoying partial witness protection

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