Anti-corruption body seeks suspension of prosecutors in Espinosa, Lim drug case

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(Fi;e photo) PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) is asking President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend the Justice Department prosecutors who cleared high profile drug personalities of charges.

In a press conference Tuesday, PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said they are recommending the preventive suspension pending the investigation of all the prosecutors who handled the case.

He added the members of the police who presented a weak case should show cause as well.

"Hindi po dapat pakawalan ito kasi grabe po ito. Droga po ito na nakita natin na problema dito sa ating bayan," Belgica said.

[Translation: We should not let this go because it this a grave issue. This is about drugs which is a huge problem in our country.]

Senators 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.

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

The PACC's proposed suspension covers Assistant State Prosecutor Michael John Humarang, Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Rassendel Gingoyon, and former Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan.

A lifestyle check should also be done on the erring officials, Belgica said.

In a separate statement, the PACC Commissioner said the prosecutor panel violated Republic Act (RA) No. 9165, or the comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, "when it failed, if not refused to set a clarificatory hearing in order to ascertain the truthfulness of the testimonies of the parties and the veracity of the submitted documents."

Belgica also denounced the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) for its failure to submit relevant and vital documents to the case.

"The incompetence in preparation of incomplete and comprehensive complaint to stop illegal drugs brought a great deal to perpetuate miscarriage of justice."

Prosecutors maintain decision

Prosecutor Humarang and former Assistant State Prosecutor Aristotle Reyes maintained their decision on the case against Espinosa and Lim, saying the decision to dismiss it under the panel of prosecutors was not final since the Justice Secretary has yet to review the resolution.

"Given that the case under consideration has not yet attained finality, the recommendation of the PACC is somehow still premature," they said in a statement Tuesday.

Both Humarang and Reyes said they were merely doing their sworn duty, and they are ready to face the allegations against them.

 "We conducted the preliminary investigation in accordance with the applicable rules, and our resolution was based only on the evidence presented to us. During the preliminary investigation, the complainant was given all the opportunity to present its case. Under the present rules, we have no authority to procure evidence on complainant's behalf," they said.

The Palace on Tuesday expressed concern over the case dismissal, but said it 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.

DOJ prosecutors dropped the charges against Espinosa, Lim, and several others earlier this month over what they claimed was a "dearth of evidence" and the unreliability of the witness.

This led Aguirre to order the prosecutors be investigated.

However, in a press conference on Monday, Aguirre apologized to prosecutors involved in the case "for causing the investigation, because extraordinary times or extraordinary incidents call for extraordinary solutions or at least, measures."

READ: Aguirre apologizes to justice prosecutors involved in dismissal of raps vs. Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim

Aguirre said he ordered the investigation because of the public outcry against the decision, and because he wanted to show there was nothing to hide as the prosecutors decided on the case in accordance with the law.

The Justice Secretary said "it is not correct" for him to order the probe, adding the investigation into the drug case will continue.

Aguirre also said he asked all parties involved to prepare all evidence to be considered by the new panel now in charge of investigation.

On March 20, Aguirre said the dismissal of drug charges against Espinosa and others are still up for review.