Who has the power to downgrade charges against suspects?
Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson on Wednesday cast doubt on the authority of justice undersecretaries to downgrade the charges against 19 policemen tagged in the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
Lacson noted that regional state prosecutors handled petitions for the review of cases under Department of Justice circular 70.
DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II however issued a separate department circular that transferred this authority to justice undersecretaries, but only for petitions filed from July 1 to December 31, 2016.
DOJ Undersecretary Reynante Orceo last June resolved the petition for review of Supt. Marvin Marcos and the officers who led the prison raid that killed Espinosa, downgrading the charges against them to homicide from murder.
But Lacson pointed out that the cops' petition was filed on April 5, 2017 -- way beyond the period covered by the circular that gave DOJ undersecretaries authority to handle such cases.
"Valid ba ang ginawa mong resolution kasi it's in violation--hindi sakop ng period na nasa circular?" the senator asked Orceo during a Senate hearing into the downgraded raps
"'Pag ganoon, sa tingin ko coming from a layman, illegal ang act mo. And ang result ng act mo, hindi valid kasi illegal ang act," he added.
Orceo, for his part, admitted: "Theoretically, that's correct your honor."
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo meanwhile said the matter could be taken up to the court with a recommendation to elevate the charges back to murder.
Two Senate panels and the National Bureau of Investigation earlier said in separate reports that Espinosa's killing was "premeditated" by the police to cover up their involvement in the illegal drug activities of the mayor.
The slain mayor's son Kerwin, who confessed to being a drug dealer in Central Visayas, testified during a Senate inquiry that Marcos was on his payroll -- an allegation that the officer tearfully denied.
Marcos and his men were put back on active duty last week.