Duterte to review the dismissal of drug charges vs. Espinosa, Lim

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Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim surrendered to President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2016 and said he is not involved in illegal drug activities in the country.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte will look into the dismissal of charges against alleged top drug lords Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim, his spokesperson said Tuesday.

"I will invoke my power of supervision and control and will review dismissal," Duterte said, as quoted by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a tweet.

In a separate Facebook post, Roque said Duterte questioned why the case against Kerwin Espinosa was dismissed by state prosecutors when he personally admitted he was involved in the drug trade.

"I can review that dismissal order. Nag-amin na nga sa Congress! (They admitted to their crimes in the Congress.) Why not admit it as evidence against him?" he added, quoting the President.

Roque said these statements were made by Duterte during a joint command conference of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police on Tuesday.

The spokesperson also quoted Duterte who expressed his dismay with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. 

"Pag-nakawala yan si Lim at Espinosa, siya ang ipapalit ko," Duterte said.

[Translation: If Espinosa walks out of jail, I will put Aguirre in his place.]

But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was at the command conference, was quick to clarify the President's remark against Aguirre.

"As usual it was said in jest," he said.

Aguirre dismissed Duterte's comment against him, saying the President is known for making statements not meant to be taken literally.

"Alam naman natin na ang ating Pangulo ay mahilig sa hyperbole. Totoo man 'yan, nagbibiro man siya or hindi, the fact is, it's unfortunate," Aguirre told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

[Translation: We know our President likes talking in hyperbole. But whether it's a joke or not, the fact is, it's unfortunate.]

Prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) have dropped charges against alleged drug lords Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, convicted drug lord Peter Co and more than 20 others.

Espinosa is a self-confessed drug dealer from Eastern Visayas. He is the son of slain Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa. Meanwhile, Lim is a Cebu-based businessman who, together with Co, were included in Duterte's drug matrix. He has denied the allegations and vowed to help in the drug war.

In its resolution, the Justice Department's panel of prosecutors cited the "dearth of evidence" and the only witness' inconsistent statements as basis for clearing the suspects.

The document was signed on December 20, 2017 and made public last March 12.

Aguirre: I am not involved

The Justice Secretary said he was not involved in the issuance of the dismissal of charges, adding he did not even see the resolution before it was released.

"Ang totoo kasi, wala akong kinalaman sa pag issue ng resolution...'Yung national prosecution service level headed by the prosecutor general, and by the office of the Secretary — 'yung aking office — magkakaroon lang kami ng chance to intervene in a case when a case is elevated to us for review, automatic review, or petition for review," he said.

[Translation: I am not involved in the issuance of the resolution. The national prosecution service level headed by the prosecutor general and my office will only have the chance to intervene in a case when a case is elevated to us for review, automatic review, or petition for review.]

Aguirre on Tuesday ordered the creation of new panels to review the decision. One panel will look into the motion for reconsideration filed by the police, while the other panel will look into the possibility of wrongful exercise of authority of the state prosecutors.

Palace vowed the government will continue to go after high-profile drug personalities.

"We will not allow a big fish to go away if there's evidence to go after him," Roque said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

He added, "Hindi pa po tapos ang 'boxing' laban kay Peter Lim at dito kay Kerwin Espinosa. Rerepasuhin pa po 'yan ng Kalihim ng Department of Justice, at sisiguraduhin na tama ang naging naunang desisyon ng ating mga public prosecutors."

[Translation: The boxing fight against Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa is far from over. Justice Secretary will review it and will investigate if the decision of the public prosecutors was correct.]