July 19, 2018, 6:07 am
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Prosecutors: CIDG failed to do its job

STATE prosecutors who dismissed the criminal charges against self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, and others allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade yesterday defended their controversial decision, with one of them saying it is not their job to look for evidence.

Former Assistant State Prosecutor and now Lucena City Regional Trial Court Judge Aristotle Reyes said their job is to weigh the evidence presented to them, in effect accusing the PNP-CIDG of inefficiency for failing to include the testimony of Espinosa during a Senate hearing on November 23, 2016.

In that hearing, Espinosa read a sworn statement admitting his involvement in the narcotics trade, how he started in the business and his drug sources as well as protectors in the police force.

“During the Senate hearing, Kerwin made an admission but it is not our job to make a transcript, otherwise we’ll be the one gathering evidence. That is the job of the CIDG. They failed to do that,” Reyes told dzBB.

“We only rely on the evidence submitted to us. It’s not our job to collate evidence, otherwise we’ll be lawyering for the CIDG,” he added.

Assistant State Prosecutor Michael John Humarang, who along with Reyes recommended the dismissal of the case to acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan, echoed Reyes’ remarks, saying the PNP-CIDG did not present sufficient evidence against the respondents.

“The complainant did not present sufficient evidence and instead relied only on the testimony of its sole witness,” Humarang said.

The case gained added significance because President Duterte, dismayed by the DOJ decision, threatened to jail Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II if Espinosa and the rest escape the long arm of the law.

Humarang added he and his fellow prosecutors in the case are ready to face investigation, including allegations that the case was dismissed for material gain.

“I welcome the investigation. We stand ready to face the probe because out conscience is clear,” Humarang said.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II last Wednesday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the state prosecutors who dismissed the case last December and made public only last Monday.

Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte), chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs, slammed the prosecutors for exonerating Kerwin Espinosa and the rest, saying: “Instead of probable cause, the panel decision raised a mysterious million dollar question, what is the probable cost of the dismissal?” 

The CIDG said it did not include the Senate confession of Espinosa in the complaint because he recanted this during the preliminary investigation and denied the claim of prosecution witness Marcelo Adorco regarding his alleged involvement in the narcotics trade.

In his Senate testimony, Espinosa named Lim and convicted drug trafficker Peter Co as among those who supplied his group with illegal drugs. Co is serving a sentence for drug dealing at the New Bilibid Prison.

Aside from Lim, Espinosa, and Co, the DOJ also cleared Lovely Impal, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito and several others known only by their aliases.

“This complaint filed by the CIDG is weak because it only has one witness. They have a corroborative witness but did not include him,” Reyes said, referring to Jose Antipuesto, whom police said is Espinosa’s aide and friend.

Antipuesto, however, also recanted his testimony, saying he was only forced to do so by the police.

In an interview, Reyes said they found material inconsistencies in Adorco’s statements, adding that because of the inconsistencies, “his credibility has been affected.”

Reyes added that Adorco, Espinosa’s driver, claimed to have no personal knowledge on most of the material allegations pertaining to alleged drug deals of Espinosa.

Reyes said the probe ordered by Aguirre will give them the opportunity to clear their names.

“We cannot decide against a person because of public clamor even if there really is not enough evidence. We will submit to the investigation to clear our names,” Reyes said.

Also last Wednesday, Aguirre ordered the creation of another panel that will handle the motion for reconsideration filed by the CIDG. The new panel is composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, Assistant State Prosecutor Ana Noreen Devanadera and Prosecution Attorney Herbert Calvin Abugan.

Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon will act as Prosecutor General for the case.

AIRTIGHT CASE

Local Government officer in charge Eduardo Año said the PNP leadership has assured him of a tight case against Espinosa, Co and the rest of the drug traffickers named in the CIDG complaint.

Año said he was dismayed by the DOJ panel’s decision to dismiss the case. “It’s disappointing. We’re not happy of the resolution. Everybody knows that these people are involved (in) drugs,” said Año.

“We’re exerting a lot of efforts in our anti-drug effort and this resolution came out. Of course we’re not happy about that,” added Año, who welcomed the DOJ’s formation of another panel.

“We hope that this review would be carefully studied by the state prosecutors and investigate the case so that we’ll have an acceptable result,” said Año, adding he has directed PNP chief Ronald Dela Rosa and CIDG chief Director Roel Obusan “to ensure that we gather all evidence” against the suspects.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said his office will support the appeal of the CIDG seeking reversal of an earlier resolution dismissing the criminal charges against Espinosa and the rest. 

“As ‘Tribune of the People,’ the Office of the Solicitor General will be taking up the cudgels for PNP-CIDG in seeking to overturn the dismissal of the drug charges against Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim,” Calida said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Aguirre continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of President Duterte even if the latter was unhappy with the recent decision of the DOJ junking the criminal complaints against Espinosa and the rest.

Roque said the President could just fire Aguirre if he does not trust him, similar to what he did with other appointees. – With Victor Reyes and Jocelyn Montemayor 
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