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With Due Respect

Embarrassing knockout

So lackadaisical and inept were the police and the prosecution in gathering and presenting their evidence that the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati was constrained to dismiss outright the drug trafficking charges against alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and three others without requiring them to submit any evidence in their defense. If this were a boxing match, the champion was embarrassingly knocked out without need for the challenger to punch him. How did that happen?

FIRST, THE FACTS. On July 23, 2018, Espinosa and three others, Wu Tuan Yuan, Lovely Imperial, and Marcelo Adorco (the Espinosa Group) were accused in the RTC of “illegal trading or trafficking of dangerous drugs with the use of electronic devices or acting as a broker in such transactions… at the parking area of (a mall in) Makati…”

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On Oct. 8, 2018, the prosecutors asked the RTC to discharge Adorco from the accusation and to utilize him as a state or prosecution witness. While awaiting the ruling of the RTC, the prosecution called these witnesses to the stand:

(1) PO3 Norman Abellanosa who “interviewed” Adorco and later prepared his “Affidavit” implicating his co-accused; (2) SPO3 Benjamin Lamiseria who assisted in taking Adorco’s “Supplemental Affidavit;” (3) P/Supt. Richard Vercels who initially filed the accusation based on the affidavits of Adorco plus “several newspaper publications from the internet;” (4) SPO2 Roberto Conol who “took statements of Adorco;” and (5) accused Adorco himself.

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On Aug. 11, 2020, Adorco executed a “Kontra Salaysay” recanting his testimony and his earlier affidavits for being untruthful and for having been forcefully extracted from him by the police.

On Dec. 10, 2020, the RTC denied the prosecution’s request to discharge Adorco from the accusation and to use him as a state witness. Thereafter, the four accused filed four separate “demurrers to the evidence” claiming that the prosecution failed to adduce enough evidence to overcome their constitutional right to be presumed innocent.

THE RTC GRANTED THE DEMURRERS because the prosecution relied mostly on the affidavits and testimony of Adorco which the RTC said were not admissible as evidence, given that (1) the RTC earlier denied the prosecution’s request to utilize Adorco as a state witness, (2) his affidavits were extracted without the presence of a counsel of his choice, (3) his constitutional right against self-incrimination was violated, (4) even if Adorco’s testimony were admitted in evidence, still it is insufficient to convict the Espinosa Group since his “testimonies were plagued with errors and inconsistencies… Worst, in his ‘Kontra Salaysay’… Adorco recanted his testimonies… Verily, without Adorco’s testimonies, the prosecution’s case against the Espinosa Group necessarily crumbles.”

THE PUBLIC IMMEDIATELY REMONSTRATED AGAINST THE RULING. The Inquirer editorial on Jan. 4 (titled “Grossly bungled case”) summed up the public outrage in this wise: “Whether the case was doomed to fail by sheer incompetence or by some hideous intentional design, the ignominious collapse of this high-profile case will define the twilight months of the administration’s drug war.”

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, under whose watch this embarrassing knockout happened, was equally distressed but, in an admirable pose, declared that the Espinosa Group was “not off the hook yet.” Indeed, it is within his authority to initiate administrative and criminal proceedings against the erring policemen and prosecutors.

But the public will not be satisfied (and I suppose the President, too) unless the RTC’s ruling is reversed or modified to penalize the alleged drug lords—a tough job because of the violation of their constitutional rights and of the rule barring double jeopardy.

The first step would be a motion for reconsideration in the RTC. Failing in that, the second could be a petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals or in the Supreme Court, depending on the questions to be raised.

On the basis of the above facts, it is difficult, if not unfair, to fault the RTC for the shortcomings of the police and the prosecution. Nonetheless, Secretary Guevarra has more than enough gravitas and passion to find a legal way to mete out justice in this particular case and, equally important, to restore public confidence in the democratic processes lest our people turn to authoritarian shortcuts and to “shoot first and ask questions later” mercenaries.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, drug war, Kerwin Espinosa, With Due Respect
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