Aguirre creates new panel to review drug charges vs Espinosa, Lim

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13) — Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has ordered the creation of a new panel to review the decision of DOJ prosecutors to drop charges against alleged drug lords operating in the Visayas.

"I ordered the creation of a new panel that will handle the review of the DOJ's resolution on Peter Lim's case. The panel will handle the MR (motion for reconsideration) filed by PNP (Philippine National Police)," he told CNN Philippines in a text message on Tuesday.

Aguirre said this after state prosecutors cleared businessman Peter Lim, self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa, and more than 20 others of a complaint filed by the police,citing lack of evidence

READ: DOJ prosecutors drop charges vs. Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim

The Justice chief also ordered the NBI to look into the possible wrongful exercise of authority or failure of Assistant State Prosecutors Michael John Humarang and Aristotle Reyes to carry out their duties.

The move to clear the alleged drug lords of charges has been controversial, as some Senators have criticized the prosecutors' decision, noting Espinosa himself had admitted involvement in the drug trade.

READ: Aguirre creates new panel to review drug charges vs Espinosa, Lim

The three-man panel will include Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, Assistant State Prosecutor Ana Noreen Devanadera and Prosecution Attorney Herbert Calvin Abugan, Aguirre said.

Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan, who approved the document last December 2017, will not participate in the review.

The review is based on an appeal filed by the police, which had filed a motion for reconsideration in a bid to overturn the prosecutors' decision.

Aguirre had earlier said the resolution was a "slight bump" in the country's war on drugs, but noted there are possible avenues to review the case.

The Palace, meanwhile, has also expressed concern over the prosecutors' decision.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque assured the public on Tuesday the dismissal is "far from being final" and the Palace expects Aguirre to review the decision.

In a tweet Tuesday evening, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had also quoted President Rodrigo Duterte as saying he would invoke his "power of supervision and control," and will review the dismissal.

The spokesman was tweeting during a joint command conference of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.

"Pag- nakawala yan si Lim at Espinosa, sya (Aguirre) ang ipapalit ko," he also quoted the President as saying. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, however, later clarified this was said "in jest."

Lim is a Cebu-based businessman who was included in Duterte's drug matrix. He has denied the allegations and vowed to help in the drug war.

Espinosa, meanwhile, is a self-confessed drug dealer from Eastern Visayas. He is the son of slain Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa.