Valenzuela court junks drug case vs. suspects in ₱6.4B shabu smuggling

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(L-R) Mark Taguba II, Kenneth Dong, Richard Tan

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 3) — A court in Valenzuela City junked drug charges on Thursday against nine suspects in the smuggling of ₱6.4 billion worth of shabu from China in May 2017. The suspects, however, are not yet off the hook as they face another case before a Manila court.

It is the second time that a Valenzuela Regional Trial Court (RTC) has dismissed charges against the same suspects. The Valenzuela RTC Branch 284 on April 23 banished the transportation and delivery of drugs case filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in January, after an original importation case was junked weeks earlier by the city's RTC Branch 171.

The dismissed charges were those filed against against Richard Tan, owner of the Hong Fei Logistics warehouse in Valenzuela City where the drug shipment was found; fixer Mark Taguba II; alleged middlemen Manny Li and Kenneth Dong; import company owner Eirene May Tatad; Customs broker Teejay Marcellana; and Taiwanese businessmen Chen I-Min, Jhu Ming Jhun, and Chen Rong Huan.

The decision, penned by Presiding Judge Arthur Melicor, granted the motions filed by suspects Tan, Taguba and Marcellana to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of forum shopping. Forum shopping happens when a case is filed in two separate courts in hopes that one of them will rule favorably.

"Filing a case for importation in Manila after the court in Valenzuela City has dismissed an earlier case for importation for lack of jurisdiction, and then filing another case, this time for transportation, before this court involving the same accused and based on the same facts, issues and arguments, clearly bears the hallmarks of forum shopping," Melicor's decision read.

Melicor in his resolution said the prosecutors divided the criminal information — importation and delivery — between two separate courts, were part of a "common ultimate design" eventually ending in the deposit of the shabu shipment in Hong Fei's warehouse.

"From the point of view of the conspiracy to import the subject shabu, it may be said that the transport and delivery to the Hong Fei warehouse was a mere part of a series of acts to execute their shared design to import shabu," the decision read.

Another importation of drugs case filed in November last year against the suspects is pending at the Manila Regional Trial Court.

The DOJ filed the charges against the nine suspects for allegedly conspiring to transport and deliver dangerous drugs under Sections 5 and 26 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The 604-kilogram shabu shipment is one of the biggest hauls of smuggled drugs in the country, and was subjected to a Senate inquiry.

The shipment passed through the Bureau of Customs as kitchenware on May 17, 2017. Nine days later, Customs officials found the bags of shabu in Tan's warehouse, hidden in five solid steel cylinders used in printing presses.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.