Where is Peter Lim?
A strange, unfamiliar sound emanated from Malacañang last week. Asked about alleged drug lord Peter Lim, who had suddenly gone missing after a warrant of arrest was issued against him, the normally sharp-tongued presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was heard making a virtual plea: “We’re asking Peter Lim, please surrender. If you are innocent, prove your innocence in court. You will be given your day in court.”
The subdued, almost conciliatory tone was startling—a stark contrast to the usual Palace reaction to any other drug-related development. Just days previously, for instance, Malacañang had sternly asked for a probe into the accusation of a former Bicol councilor that the brother of the late Naga City mayor Jesse Robredo was linked to the drug trade.
The councilor, who had lost thrice to the six-termer Jesse Robredo, was supporting President Duterte’s earlier charge that Naga City was a “hotbed of shabu.” Neither Mr. Duterte nor the councilor offered any proof to back up their claims; when queried about this, Roque, a lawyer, made the incredulous suggestion that the burden was on Naga to prove the President’s accusation wrong.
On the other hand, the administration’s self-described “chilling and relentless” war against drugs appears to have treated Peter Lim with kid gloves so far. In fact, before the current warrant of arrest against him, Lim—along with fellow accused Kerwin Espinosa and a number of other drug suspects—was revealed to be a candidate for exoneration by the Department of Justice under now-resigned secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. Only widespread public outrage prevented that scenario from happening.
So who is Peter Lim—and why Malacañang’s suddenly tender appeal for his surrender, instead of the usual brisk denunciation of people like him?
The Cebu businessman first came under scrutiny in 2001 when he faced a congressional hearing on drugs, where two of his former employees testified against him. The hearing concluded that there was not enough evidence to pin Lim down. The two witnesses met suspicious deaths in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
On July 7, 2016, Mr. Duterte himself publicly identified Lim as among the biggest drug dealers in the country, along with Herbert Colangco, Peter Co and Kerwin Espinosa. In that same announcement, the President threatened Lim on national TV: “If he has friends here, tell him, the moment he lands here at Naia, he will die…”
Remarkably, Lim managed to wangle a meeting with Mr. Duterte in Malacañang just days after, ostensibly to explain his side. The President chatted with Lim and asked him to go to the National Bureau of Investigation to clear his name.
At a Senate hearing on Dec. 5, 2016, confessed drug distributor Kerwin Espinosa identified Lim as one of his drug suppliers. Lim denied knowing Espinosa. In August 2017, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group filed a case against Lim, Espinosa and six others for alleged drug trafficking. Those were the charges Aguirre approved to be dropped early this year—but for the ensuing public scorn that forced Malacañang to suspend the move and ease Aguirre out. Newly appointed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra eventually reinstated the drug charges and, on Aug. 14, a Makati court ordered Lim’s arrest after finding probable cause against him.
Lim promptly disappeared. Even as the National Bureau of Investigation and the police have joined forces to seek him out, the man has yet to be found. He was a no-show at his scheduled court appearance on Tuesday; the proceedings had to be deferred to Sept. 14. One is made to wonder: Where is the usual blazing, mailed-fist policy the administration employs against small-time drug suspects in the case of this guy?
Surely, the country’s law enforcement units must know that every day that Lim is on the lam only undermines the President’s centerpiece agenda of fighting drugs and criminality. Worse, it reinforces the view that the drug war is fundamentally unjust: It bears down hard, even brutally, on poor, powerless Filipinos, while big fish like Lim are apparently able to evade the noses of authorities (blessed with billions of pesos in intelligence funds, it must be said), thumb their noses at the justice system—and be the subject of earnest entreaties for their surrender by no less than the presidential spokesperson.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.