State prosecutors back colleagues who junked Lim, Espinosa drug raps

MANILA The State Prosecutors and Prosecution Attorneys Association Inc. (SPPAAI) on Monday expressed support for their colleagues at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who dismissed the illegal drugs charges against self-confessed drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa and businessman Peter Lim.

State Prosecutor Jolly de Claro-Mendoza, SPPAAI president said that Assistant State Prosecutor Michael John Humarang and former Assistant State Prosecutor Aristotle Reyes are just doing their jobs based on the pieces of evidence submitted to them by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

As prosecutors, we are bound to decide each case based on the evidence presented before us. We can neither take popular opinion nor public outcry as ground for filing a case or dismissing a complaint. Evidence submitted is the essential consideration that all prosecutors weigh in every case that we resolve. Thus, the classic image of Lady Justice with a blindfold, a balance, and a sword: the evidence tilts the scales as she remains unbiased in rendering a decision, regardless of public opinion," Mendoza read the statement of behalf of the group during the Monday's flag ceremony at DOJ.

"Fair play demands that the public observe the same principle before making any action and avoid dampening the reputation of others without cause. We espouse their resolve and stand by them as testament to upholding the rule of law and in truly prosecuting crimes without fear or favor," she stressed.

The group branded as "reckless and malicious" the call of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) urging President Duterte to place under preventive suspension and file administrative charges against Humarang, OIC-Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Rassendel Rex Gingoyon, Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan as well as the conduct of a lifestyle check on Reyes who is now a judge at the Lucena Regional Trial Court.

Humarang and Reyes, earlier said the PACC's recommendation was premature considering that their resolution is still subject for review by the Office of the Justice Secretary.

"At any rate, we're just doing our sworn duty and we are ready to face the allegations against us. We conducted the preliminary investigation in accordance with the applicable rules, and our resolution was based only on the evidence presented to us," the two said in a joint statement issued to members of the media.

They also said the case against the respondents is not yet final as it is still undergoing review and further preliminary investigation by the new panel of prosecutors, noting there is still no definite finding on whether the respondents would be absolved of the charges.

In all drug cases under preliminary investigation, the dismissal of the charges at the level of the investigating prosecutors until its approval by the prosecutor general cannot be considered as final since the secretary of justice still has to review the resolution and to take appropriate actions thereon, just like in the present case, wherein he remanded it to the new panel of prosecutors, they said.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the PACC is not familiar with the workings at the DOJ and that there was no basis for pushing for the suspension of the prosecutors.

We thank our good Secretary of Justice Vitaliano N. Aguirre for his unending support to the State Prosecutors and Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Inc. and the National Prosecution Service, as a whole, in ensuring an efficient and equitable administration of justice, the SPPAAI said.

PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said the DOJ prosecutors should have conducted clarificatory hearings and exerted extra efforts before resolving the case against the respondents.

The commission is also recommending a show cause for police officers who filed what was described as a weak case, and vowed to conduct a lifestyle check on erring officials.

Belgica said the commission had submitted its recommendation to Duterte on Tuesday.

We are here to say the commission en banc has recommended for the preventive suspension of all prosecutors who handled the case and to show cause against police who filed what we call as a weak case, Belgica said during the press conference last week.

Meanwhile, the DOJ is set to conduct the preliminary investigation handled by the new panel of prosecutors on the drug complaint filed by the police against them.

The new panel of prosecutors assigned by Aguirre is composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, Assistant State Prosecutor Anna Norren Devanadera, and Prosecution Attorney Herbert Calvin Abugan.

Aguirre said the new panel of prosecutors is empowered to continue the preliminary investigation on the cases against the two alleged drug kingpins.

He made the move after being criticized when a panel of prosecutors of the DOJ issued the Dec. 20, 2017 resolution that dismissed the drug complaint filed by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group's Major Crimes Investigation Unit (PNP-CIDG-MCIU).

Based on the subpoena issued by the DOJ, the respondents are required to attend the first hearing set at 1 p.m. on April 12.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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