Aguirre overturns clearing of drug lords

Vitaliano Aguirre II —JOAN BONDOC

Due to public outrage, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has canceled his prosecutors’ resolution clearing suspected drug kingpin Peter Lim, confessed drug dealer Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. and convicted narcotics boss Peter Co of drug charges.

“I issued an order [on Monday] vacating the dismissal of the case, so much so that there is no such dismissal anymore,” Aguirre said in a press briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday.


“Vacate” is a legal term meaning to “annul” or “void,” usually used to refer to an appeals court’s decision reversing a lower court’s judgment.

Aguirre said the parties in the case could now submit new evidence to strengthen their respective positions.


Review by new panel

The justice secretary said the new panel of prosecutors he had formed would review the original resolution and receive new evidence to be submitted.

Aguirre attributed his decision to the “nationwide uproar” created by the dismissal of the criminal charges against suspected big fish in the local narcotics trade.

He blamed the public outrage on the “premature declaration” that the case had been dismissed although it was still subject to a motion for reconsideration and review.

“Because of this backlash, I had the prosecutors investigated and some of them felt hurt,” he said.

“I understand where they’re coming from, but they should also understand, because of the backlash caused by some people with ill motives, coupled with politics, people had a bad perception,” he added.

Among those flabbergasted with the prosecutors’ findings was President Duterte, who told Aguirre to take public opinion into consideration.


“The President told me, ‘Vit, while the rules are there, you must, your department, has also to feel the pulse of the people, in these kinds of cases, the big ones,’” Aguirre said.

Dec. 20, 2017, resolution

The prosecutors’ findings clearing Espinosa, Lim, Co and several others of drug charges came to light two weeks ago after reporters covering the Department of Justice (DOJ) discovered the resolution that was dated Dec. 20, 2017.

The discovery of the resolution caused widespread anger and criticism that Mr. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs was aimed only at small-time users and pushers while letting the traffickers and dealers get away.

Espinosa, testifying in a Senate inquiry into the drug trade in 2016, admitted that he was a drug dealer.

Lim was tagged as a drug lord by President Duterte himself. Lim denied the allegation.

Exonerated along with Espinosa and Lim were convicted drug lord Co, Lovely Impal, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito and several others.

The Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), which had brought the charges, is appealing the dismissal of the case.

The CIDG had been unable to submit Espinosa’s Senate confession as evidence because he retracted his admission that he was a drug dealer.

Extrajudicial confession

But the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (DEG) said on Tuesday that it had an extrajudicial confession from Espinosa and it would use it to support the CIDG case.

Chief Supt. Albert Ferro, the DEG director, told reporters that Espinosa’s extrajudicial confession was taken in November 2016 but was not given to the CIDG because the PNP group had been dissolved on orders from President Duterte.

“Unfortunately, maybe we (PNP units) did not get the chance to talk. But I think that evidence is available in the Senate. We submitted that to the Senate,” Ferro said, adding that Espinosa, who was arrested on Oct. 17, 2016, made his extrajudicial confession before he was brought to the Senate to testify.

“Before that, he made a confession to a priest. He [asked] for a priest. And it was properly taken. It was videotaped,” he said.

Supt. Enrico Rigor, the DEG legal officer, said his counterpart in the CIDG already had a transcript of Espinosa’s Nov. 23, 2016, testimony in the Senate, which would be submitted as evidence to the DOJ review panel.

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TAGS: dismissed drug cases, Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Co, Peter Lim, Rolando Espinosa Jr., Vitaliano Aguirre II, war on drugs
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