DOJ prosecutors drop charges vs. Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 12) — Prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) have dropped charges against alleged drug lords operating in the Visayas, but officials clarified the decision can still be overturned.

In a 41-page resolution made public on Monday, the Task Force on Anti-illegal Drugs under the DOJ recommended the dismissal of the police's complaint against alleged drug lords Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, and more than 20 others.

The document was signed on December 20, 2017 by assistant state prosecutors and approved by Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan.

"The dearth of complainant's evidence and (Marcelo) Adorco's unreliability as a witness thus constrain us to dismiss the present complaint against the respondents," the resolution read.

Adorco is named as the sole witness in the complaint filed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Major Crimes Investigation Unit (CIDG-MCIU).

Adorco claimed to be a close confidante of the Espinosas after meeting Kerwin in prison in 2011, and said he had a notebook that contained the list of people who had illegal drug transactions with the Espinosas.

However, the prosecutors said Adorco's testimonies were "rife with inconsistencies and contradictions," casting doubts on their truthfulness.

The prosecutors enumerated nine contradictions in Adorco's statements on the details of the supposed drug transactions.

In the complaint, the CIDG-MCIU charged the respondents with trading and distribution of dangerous drugs, which is punishable by life imprisonment under Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

The police said Espinosa conspired with several drug couriers and shabu suppliers Lim, Peter Co, and Lovely Impal, to sell and distribute drugs from Makati City to selected areas in the Central and Eastern Visayas regions.

In July 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte named Co and Lim as among the country's topmost drug lords. Supposedly members of the Chinese triad, Co was operating in Metro Manila and Luzon, while Lim in the Visayas.

READ: Duterte names country's topmost drug lords

The Philippine National Police said it has filed a motion for reconsideration in a bid to overturn the prosecutors' decision.

DOJ under fire

The Palace expressed concern over the prosecutor's decision but said it expects Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to review it. 

Aguirre also said the resolution is a "slight bump" in the drug war, but noted there are several avenues to review the case, which would be elevated to Aguirre's office for automatic review.

Senators have criticized the Justice Department for its prosecutors' decision, noting that Espinosa himself had admitted involvement in the drug trade.

READ: Dismissal of charges vs. Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim 'casts doubts' on drug war

Espinosa told Senate hearings he gave millions of pesos in drug money to police officers, generals, and other government officials, including then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in exchange for the protection of his illegal drug trade business.

This is a claim De Lima has repeatedly denied. She has been detained without bail at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since February 2017 over drug charges.

Where is Kerwin, etc?

Only some of the respondents in the case are in government custody.

Espinosa has been held by authorities since November 2016 when he was arrested in Abu Dhabi over drug trafficking charges, and brought back to the Philippines.

He was earlier detained in Camp Crame then transferred to the national headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation after a court order.

Impal, whom the police calls a "drug queen," surrendered to authorities in December 2016. PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa said she admitted to being Espinosa's supplier.

Lim, a Cebu-based businessman, did not show up at the preliminary hearing of his case, despite a subpoena. His lawyers attended the hearing on his behalf in August 2017.

CNN Philippines' Pia Garcia contributed to this report.