Who’s in charge?
What was it that President Duterte said about alleged drug lord Peter Lim two years ago, in a speech before TV cameras? “According to the PNP chief, he goes in and out of the country. If he has friends here, sabihin mo sa kanya (tell him): The moment he lands at Naia, he will die. Better do not come back to the Philippines anymore. The moment he steps out of the plane, he will die. That is my assurance to the people of the Philippines.”
As it happened, Lim didn’t die. No bullet for him on the tarmac, or elsewhere. In fact he sought, and was granted, an exclusive audience with the President, in an effort to disabuse Malacañang of the idea that he was “Jaguar,” the alleged criminal kingpin mentioned prominently as a member of an international drug syndicate in the “drug matrix” that the President had earlier presented to the nation. Per reports, Mr. Duterte refused to shake Lim’s hand, telling him brusquely: “I will execute you… I will finish you off.” But, near the end of the conversation, he appeared to soften somewhat and advised his visitor: “We want to help you. Help us clear you.”
Also about two years ago, this is what the alleged big-time Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa told the Senate: He gave P8 million in drug money to Sen. Leila de Lima as campaign contribution for her senatorial run—the main charge for which De Lima is now incarcerated. He said he also paid millions of pesos to a number of generals and police officials as protection money for his drug trade in Region 8; among these officials were retired general Vicente Loot (whose payoff he said he coursed through Chief Insp. Leo Laraga of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas) and Supt. Marvin Marcos, head of CIDG-8.
Both Laraga and Marcos were involved in the operation—denounced by the Senate as a “rubout”—that saw policemen shooting dead Kerwin Espinosa’s father, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, right inside his jail cell. Laraga eventually admitted to pulling the trigger.
Under oath, Kerwin Espinosa also said that, while detained in the New Bilibid Prison in 2008, it was convicted drug lord Peter Co who supplied him with drugs to sell. But, once out and free to operate in the Visayas, he said he had a different supplier: Peter Lim—the same Peter Lim that Mr. Duterte himself had identified as a big-time drug lord, threatened to kill in public, and then accorded an audience in the Palace so the guy could personally plead his innocence.
It took a while, but the high-profile entreaty apparently worked: The drug trafficking charges against Lim, Espinosa, Co and a number of others were thrown out by Department of Justice prosecutors in December 2017, although the news would leak out only three months later. The government lawyers blamed the reversal of the charges on the supposedly weak evidence submitted by the CIDG. The resolution itself “was kept from the public until journalists covering the justice beat obtained a copy from a DOJ insider,” as this paper reported.
Incredibly, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre claimed that he only learned of the dropping of charges from the media.
What about Espinosa’s statements to the Senate—that he was involved in the drug trade in prison and outside courtesy of Peter Co and Peter Lim, respectively? The CIDG failed to attach a transcript of his testimony to the charge sheet, and “it is not our job to look for evidence,” said Aristotle M. Reyes, one of the two former prosecutors who junked the charges—and also the prosecutor who cleared former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon of liability in the case involving P6.4 billion worth of drugs smuggled from China.
Reyes is now a regional trial court judge in Lucena, Quezon, having been promoted to the job by Mr. Duterte. He was sworn into office a month after the charges against Espinosa and his cohorts were surreptitiously dropped.
Malacañang has announced that the President himself would review the exoneration of Espinosa et al. But the monumental incompetence, dishonesty and disarray in the highest law enforcement offices, as shown by these developments, serve to affirm the sham of the administration’s war on drugs, and raise fundamental questions: What the hell is going on? Who’s in charge? And, in this linchpin case—what did the President, his justice secretary, and the others know, and when did they know it?
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