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

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13) — The government's war on drugs comes under fire yet again after the dismissal of charges against alleged drug lords.

Senators on Tuesday questioned the government prosecutors' decision to drop the drug charges against self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa, Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim, and several other suspects.

"Ngayong pinalaya na ang drug lord na tumestigo at umamin sa kaniyang paglahok sa drug trade, may duda sa giyera kontra droga ng administrasyon," Senator Bam Aquino said in a statement Tuesday.

[Translation: "Now that the drug lord who testified and admitted to his involvement in the drug trade has been cleared, there is doubt on the administration's war on drugs."]

Senator Antonio Trillanes, one of the harshest critics of the Duterte administration, said this is "yet another proof that what Duterte unleashed upon us is a fake drug war."

Senator Grace Poe meanwhile said she finds it perplexing that Espinosa "can be exonerated by the State," even after admitting to having an illegal drug trade business in the Eastern Visayas region.

RELATED: Eastern Visayas drug trade thrives as ex-Espinosa members regroup – police  

"It reflects the sloppiness of the police's investigation and case build up against these drug lords," Poe said. "Naghanap ba talaga ng ebidensya ang prosekyusyon (Did the prosecution really searched for evidence)?"

She scored the prosecution for "lazily relying on (a) single witness," Marcelo Adorco.

In its resolution, the Justice Department's panel of prosecutors cited the "death of evidence" and Adorco's inconsistent statements as basis for clearing the suspects.

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

Palace: Aguirre to review dismissal

The Palace on Tuesday expressed concern over the dismissal, but said its expects the decision to be reviewed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

"We would like to assure the public that the dismissal is far from being final," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.

"Inaasahan po namin na rerepasuhin ni Secretary Aguirre and dismissal na ito (We expect Secretary Aguirre to review this decision)," he added.

Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte's order was to find and submit additional evidence if needed, adding that the government will not let a "big fish" be acquitted.

Aguirre in a statement admitted the prosecution's decision was a "slight bump" in the drug war, but said government remains committed to the anti-drug campaign.

"Under our present procedure in the DOJ, there are possible avenues to review this case, either by a motion for reconsideration, or ultimately, by way of automatic review by my office," he said.

The Philippine National Police said it has filed a motion for reconsideration has been filed in relation to the prosecution's move.

War vs. poor, critics?

Aquino further noted that it is "grave injustice" that thousands of "poor" drug suspects were killed in police operations while the suspected drug lords are being cleared.

"Sa pagpapalaya ng mga nahuling drug lord, klaro na ang tokhang ay para lamang sa mga mahihirap na Pilipino at hindi para sa may pera at koneksiyon," Aquino said.

[Translation: "In letting the arrested drug lord go, it is clear that the Tokhang is only for the poor Filipinos and not for those who are rich and affluent."]

Oplan Tokhang is the police's flagship anti-drug campaign.

Around 4,000 suspects were killed in anti-drug operations since the start of the bloody drug war in July 2016, government data show. Human rights groups said there more than 13,000 killings in the drug war.

The opposition Liberal Party (LP) meanwhile, questioned why Senator Leila de Lima remains in jail while Espinosa, one of the key witnesses against her, has been cleared.

Malacañang however said De Lima's case is different, noting that the Supreme Court en banc Supreme Court en banc in October 2017 already denied De Lima's bid to nullify her arrest on drug charges.

De Lima has been detained without bail at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since February 2017 over drug charges.

She denied all allegations, including Espinosa's claims he gave millions of pesos in drug money for her campaign in the 2016 senatorial polls.

Self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa: I gave ₱8M to De Lima's campaign; senator denies allegation