For all its claims of a resolute war against drugs and corruption, the Duterte administration seems to be showing the opposite with two recent questionable legal moves – the dropping of charges against prominent suspected drug lords and the decision to put alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles under the Witness Protection Program with the end in view obviously of making her a state witness against several politicians.
A panel of prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a resolution — that was approved on Dec. 20, 2017 and made public only last Feb. 27 — to throw out the complaint filed against Peter Lim, who was named by President Duterte himself as the country’s biggest drug lord when he launched his war against drug in 2016. Also thrown out were the complaints against Kerwin Espinosa, who confessed before a Senate panel bring a drug lord; convicted drug lord Peter Co; and several others believed involved in drug trading.
Critics correctly pointed out that the resolution shows the hypocrisy of Duterte’s vaunted drug war, which has killed thousands of poor drug users and small-time drug pushers without the benefit of due process but has yet to bring down the big-time drug dealers and smugglers. Instead of bringing the case to trial or at least ask the police to produce more evidence, the DOJ prosecutors simply decided to ignore the testimony of the witness, saying his testimony was not credible and could not be corroborated.
The DOJ even cautioned the police from “filing cases on the basis solely of an uncorroborated testimony of an evidently self-serving witness.” And yet, the DOJ gave credence to the testimonies of obviously self-serving witnesses — all convicted and jailed drug lords, including Peter Co and one other accused in the case, dropped by the DOJ – to arrest and jail a sitting senator, Leila de Lima, on drug charges, for which De Lima is still awaiting trial after more than one year in detention.
It must be pointed out that the same panel of prosecutors was responsible for the dropping of charges against customs officials charged in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal whose “not credible and self-serving” witness (at least according to the prosecutors) had also implicated Duterte’s son, erstwhile Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, in the shabu case.
It must likewise be pointed out that in declaring Peter Lim as the country’s biggest drug lord, Duterte threatened to shoot him on sight himself but appeared to soften his stand after photos of him and Lim as co-sponsors in a wedding appeared on various newspapers.
In both the cases against drug lords and customs officials, the Senate blue ribbon committee, headed by Sen. Dick Gordon, had recommended the filing of criminal charges against the accused after lengthy hearings, during which Espinosa confessed to being a drug lord and even narrated how he dealt some of the transactions.
Gordon, who was also infuriated with the earlier dismissal of charges in the shabu smuggling case along with several other senators, demanded that Aguirre explain why the charges were dropped.
The President, at least according to sources close to Duterte, was reportedly so infuriated with the dropping of the cases that he punched the wall and threatened to fire Aguirre if Lim and company were set free. Aguirre said the DOJ would review the prosecutors’ resolution.
Some sectors, however, raised doubts on the punching-the-wall report because it seemed unlikely that in the three months between its approval by the Prosecutor General on Dec. 20 last year and the actual announcement last Feb. 27, the resolution was kept from either Aguirre or Duterte. With the impact it would cause on the credibility of Duterte’s drug war, it seemed very unlikely that the prosecutors and Aguirre would throw caution to the wind and earn the ire of the President.
In a clear case of wag-the-dog action, the DOJ announced the acceptance of Napoles into the Witness Protection Program the next day or so, apparently hoping that the new bombshell would relegate to the background the dismissal of charges against the drug lords just like the dismissal of the charges against the customs officials and others involved in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling case.
Indeed, the granting of witness protection to Napoles sparked outrage and distracted public attention from the dropping of the case against the drug lords. The witness protection law states that the “most guilty” cannot become state witness. In the case of Napoles, it’s like Al Capone being granted immunity and state protection in exchange for testimony against the corrupt politicians and policemen in the crime lord’s payroll.