Overshadowed by the avalanche of news about the unexpected death of former president Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III was the disturbing revelation last week by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año that indicted drug lord Peter Lim, who has been on the run since 2018, had fled the country. Or might have—Año didn’t sound so sure in his radio interview: “Iyong isa pong hinahanap natin, si Peter Lim, nawawala na rin ito at ang tingin natin, nakalabas ng country.”
Lim, whom President Duterte himself in 2016 described as one of the country’s biggest illegal drug dealers, has an outstanding warrant of arrest for conspiracy to engage in illegal drug trading and a P500,000 bounty on his head.
The Cebu-based Lim had been accused of supplying at least 90 kilos of “shabu” or crystal meth to the so-called Espinosa drug group in Central and Eastern Visayas in 2013 and 2015.
Notwithstanding the administration’s egregious failure to capture Lim, Año insisted that the Duterte government was continuing to hunt down illegal drug syndicates. That centerpiece domestic agenda from day one raised the expectation that the administration would be exerting all efforts and using all possible resources to bring the likes of Lim to justice. And yet, despite bloated intelligence funds and nearly three years of presumed pursuit, Lim has mysteriously continued to elude arrest.
Early on, Lim and his brother were tagged as political contributors to Mr. Duterte’s campaign for the presidency. Then, in a bizarre turn of events in July 2016, Lim, whom Mr. Duterte had excoriated as a top drug lord and publicly threatened with death (“’Pag nakita kita dito sa Pilipinas, you’re dead”), was in fact ushered into Malacañang to enjoy the rare privilege of a tête-à-tête with the President. In that televised meeting, Lim disclaimed any involvement with drugs, and the President just told him to clear his name with the National Bureau of Investigation.
Then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II further set tongues wagging when a Department of Justice panel recommended the dismissal of drug trading charges against Lim and self-confessed drug distributor Kerwin Espinosa on “weak evidence.” Only widespread public outrage forced Aguirre to “vacate” that decision. A new DOJ panel eventually indicted both Lim and Espinosa for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading. An arrest warrant was issued in August 2018, and Lim has not been found since.
For imprisoned Sen. Leila de Lima, the fact that Lim has not been captured since 2018 and now has allegedly fled the country should prove once again that the “war on drugs” is a sham: “Ang kaso ni Peter Lim… ay patunay na doble kara at malaking krimen itong war on drugs. Madugo lang ito kung ang sangkot ay mahirap, karaniwang taong naligaw ng landas at walang kapit. Pero walang napapanagot na totoo at malaking drug lord.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra tried to play down Año’s damning revelation by saying that there was no official record of Lim’s departure and that he could still be in the country. His last trip was in 2017, according to the Bureau of Immigration, and his passport had expired.
But at the same time, Guevarra said that it was indeed possible that Lim had left under an assumed name and slipped out via the porous borders in the south, thus the lack of official travel records.
Scrambling for some damage control, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar last Monday ordered the PNP Directorate for Intelligence, the PNP Drug Enforcement Group, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to ramp up efforts to find out where Lim is. “I believe that once we get validated information, we can make the necessary coordination with our foreign counterparts. We will catch him whether he is in the country or outside the country. It is just a matter of time,” said Eleazar.
Guevarra also said that “it was about time” that Lim be placed on the red notice list of Interpol to extend the search overseas.
With just one year left into the term of President Duterte, these belated commitments to capture Lim sound more hollow than reassuring.
Lim’s success at eluding authorities only further undermines the credibility of the Duterte administration’s drug war. After five straight years of a relentless, all-out campaign that has left thousands of ordinary Filipinos dead and eroded the rule of law, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a recent report that shabu “remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines,” and the main reason for the bulk of drug-related arrests and treatment admissions in the country. The report also concluded that despite the COVID-19 mobility restrictions, total seizure of crystal meth last year even exceeded the quantity recorded in 2019, proving that the illegal drug trade remains alive and well despite brash claims to the contrary.
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