Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre is being pressed to explain the dismissal of charges against self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and 20 others.
Senator Richard Gordon said he was shocked that Espinosa had been cleared even after admitting to being a drug trafficker at a Senate inquiry in 2016.
“I condemn that to the highest level. I don’t know what entered their heads,” he said, referring to the dismissal of charges by Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors.
Senator Grace Poe was also baffled by the move. “How a self-confessed drug lord like Kerwin Espinosa can be exonerated by the state is perplexing,” she said.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino described the dismissal as a “grave injustice” for the thousands of victims of drug-related extrajudicial killings.
“What’s the point of killing thousands of our countrymen if the sources of drugs are freed?” he asked.
Senator Antonio Trillanes, an outspoken critic of the president’s war on drugs, said the dismissal was yet “another proof that what Duterte unleashed upon us is a fake drug war”.
“If you’re poor, you’ll be killed – no questions asked. When it comes to drug lords and a friend of Duterte, you’ll not only have due process, but also be cleared of drug charges,” he said.
Trillanes then cited the case of Senator Leila de Lima, who was swiftly charged and detained based on what he called “scripted” and “conflicting” testimonies.
“Mr Duterte, you’re duping our countrymen,” he said.
Speaking from her cell at Camp Crame, jailed Senator Leila de Lima also slammed the dismissal, describing it as “the biggest joke of all”.
“The government tried to hide the dismissal of the cases from the public since December of last year. And now Duterte is pretending to huff and puff at this dismissal,” she said.
The cases were dismissed on December 20, a fact that only came to light this week after copies of the resolution were obtained by the media.
“It’s either they were hiding it because they were complicit in the deal with the drug lords — including the deal for the perpetuation of their lies against me — or they are so incompetent as to be completely ignorant of the dismissal a full three months after the fact.
“The corruption, or the incompetence — pick your choice — is incredible.
“If the Duterte government is consistent in anything in its drug war, it is in the lack of interest in going after the drug lords and drug deals that matter. In the meantime, thousands are killed for possession of a few ounces of shabu, most of it even planted after a supposed shootout.”
Aguirre has since said that the resolution was not made public because it was still subject to a motion for reconsideration and review.
The DOJ dropped the charges due to a ‘weak’ complaint by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Aguirre has claimed.
The CIDG, meanwhile, has already filed a motion for reconsideration to reverse the DOJ decision. A new panel has been created to deal with the case.
According to presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Duterte did not hide his frustration with the ruling and vowed to invoke his power of supervision over the DOJ.
Roque added that the president also threatened to send Aguirre to jail because of the blunder.
“If Lim and Espinosa are freed, I’ll send him to jail in their place. I can review that dismissal order. Espinosa already admitted at the Congress. Why not admit it as evidence against him,” Roque quoted the president as saying.
Aside from Lim and Espinosa, charges against Peter Co, Marcelo Adorco, Max Miro, Lovely Impal, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito, Jermy Amang and several other unnamed individuals were also dropped due to lack of “concrete and competent evidence”.