By Arjay L. Balinbin
“WE WILL NOT allow big fish to go away,” Malacañang said on Tuesday following criticisms of the Department of Justice’s dismissal of drug charges filed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) against alleged drug lord Peter Go Lim, confessed drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa, convicted drug lord Peter Co, and more than 20 others.
“We would like to assure the public that the dismissal is far from being final. It is in fact subject to automatic review by (Justice) Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, and we look forward to the review to be made by Secretary Aguirre,” Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a press briefing on Tuesday, March 13.
He added: “Meanwhile, we understand the sentiments and the frustration of the public over the dismissal, but stress that the police can re-file the case, can introduce additional evidence, but we need to be very careful that at this stage, that the evidence would be complete to sustain a conviction when filed before the courts.”
The DoJ’s petition, Mr. Roque said, will not affect the case of Senator Leila M. De Lima. “There are other witnesses who would testify against the lady senator,” he said.
Asked whether there is a possible negligence on the part of the PNP in its case buildup, Mr. Roque said: “Hindi naman po siguro, at gaya po ng taumbayan (I don’t think so, and just like the public), the Office of the President will take a very interested position in this case and we will closely monitor how the police will act from henceforth.”
“As I said, if upon review, the DoJ finds reasons to reverse the dismissal, then it will be reversed. If, however, it is necessary to file additional evidence, we will prompt police authorities to do so. We will not allow a big fish to go away if there’s evidence to go after him,” he said further.
For his part, Senate blue-ribbon committee chairman Senator Richard J. Gordon said: “I condemn that to the highest heavens. Talagang ewan ko kung anong pumasok sa kanilang kalooban na gagamitin nila sa mas malaking kaso si Kerwin, gawin nilang state witness (I really do not know what popped into their heads that they would use Kerwin as a state witness [against Ms. De Lima].”
Mr. Gordon noted that Mr. Espinosa himself “confessed” before a Senate inquiry that he was involved in drug dealings.
“Ayun na nga ang sinasabi ko, bakit tayo magda-drug war kung ‘yong mga taong malalaki ay idi-dismiss mo rin pala ang kaso (That’s what I’ve been saying. Why wage a drug war if we dismiss the cases filed against these big drug personalities?). I don’t know if the president is aware. He must be aware of it,” he added.
The Liberal Party (LP), for its part, said the clearing of the accused “highlights the administration’s poor record (in) due process and fair play.”
“The poor with a few grams of illegal drugs are killed while the wealthy and political allies caught with P6.5 billion worth of shabu remain free.”
The opposition party also called Mr. Lim a “Presidential Kumpadre,” as he has been also widely reputed to be.
Mr. Roque said: “Unfair naman iyon na palibhasa naging kumpadre sa kasal.” (That is unfair just because they both once stood as wedding sponsors.)
“Wala namang basehan iyong ganyang paratang (Such allegations have no basis),” he added, regarding allegations the government has been soft on Mr. Lim.
As for LP senator De Lima, the party said, “Not one gram of illegal drugs has been found in her possession. The only supposed evidence against her: The testimony of Kerwin Espinosa — who, according to the DoJ, has been cleared of involvement in the illegal drug trade.”
“We continue to assert that Leila de Lima is innocent. Her only crime was to hold government to account for human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. We call for her immediate release,” the party said in its statement. — with Camille A. Aguinaldo