De Lima gives prosecutors ultimatum
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday issued an ultimatum to state prosecutors to resolve complaints that they are handling within the prescribed 60-day period.
De Lima cited in particular Zamboanga City prosecutors Gladdy Bernabe and Alfredo Jimenez Jr. for failing to resolve the cases filed against a couple suspected of smuggling P35 million worth of black corals and other endangered marine species out of the country.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Tuesday demanded that the two prosecutors be dismissed for allegedly sitting on the case of the suspect couple, Lee Yu Ming, alias Joe Pring, and the latter’s wife, Olivia Lim Li.
The couple reportedly fled the country before the justice department could order the immigration bureau to place them on the immigration watch list.
De Lima said Prosecutor General Claro Arellano had directed Bernabe and Jimenez to explain within 24 hours why they should not be administratively sanctioned for their failure to promptly file cases against Lee and Li.
“We will give them due process and hear them out. The administrative sanctions on them will depend on how satisfactory or unsatisfactory their explanation will be,” she said.
If the prosecutors are unable to satisfactorily explain their actions, “we will do whatever is appropriate, which may include dismissal from service,” she said.
Lee reportedly took a Cebu Pacific flight to Hong Kong on June 7, two days before the justice department ordered the Bureau of Immigration to place him on its watch list.
Li is believed to have fled to Malaysia, Sen. Miguel Zubiri told a Senate hearing on the smuggling of protected marine species on Tuesday.
Placed on watch list
Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III signed the DoJ directive that also placed warehouse operators Benny Yu and Rosario Yu on the watch list.
BI spokesperson Maria Antonette Mangrobang said an earlier DoJ order had placed coral smuggling suspects Li, Exequiel Navaro, Kim Atillano and Ireneo Penuliar on the BI watch list.
In Zamboanga City, Western Mindanao state prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron on Tuesday said government prosecutors should not be faulted for the delay in the filing of charges against the suspected coral smugglers.
Lee had been arrested back in 2005 for trading in endangered marine species but charges were only filed against him last week.
Li was also charged after millions of pesos in corals were discovered in a container van she had shipped from Zamboanga. The same kind of contraband were found in subsequent raids on the couple’s warehouses.
Cabaron said the cases would not have “slept” if the National Bureau of Investigation had provided them with strong evidence.
He cited the NBI’s failure to specify Lee’s nationality as one example.
If the prosecutors had been able to build up the cases from the beginning, they would have been resolved by now, he said.
“But with the information provided by the NBI, how could we do that?” Cabaron said.
Cabaron also admitted the prosecutors also gave priority to other cases they deemed more serious like terrorism, kidnapping and murder.
He said the DoJ was also planning to file charges Benny and Rosario Yu, the couple who owned the warehouses where the marine species were found. Benny said he had rented out the warehouses to Lee and Li.
The gathering of corals and other endangered marine species is a lucrative activity for small fishermen in western Mindanao, according to a Badjao diver.
For fishermen, it is easier than catching fish, said a 68-year-old diver, whose identity has been withheld for his protection.