MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte still trusts Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II despite the much-criticized Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution that dropped charges against confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and suspect Peter Lim.
“He (Duterte) said so,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque when asked whether the President still trusts Aguirre who, as justice secretary, wields vast powers in handling criminal cases.
Duterte earlier expressed disappointment after learning that DOJ prosecutors dismissed charges against Espinosa, Lim, and several others due to weak evidence.
Roque quoted Duterte as saying that if Espinosa and Lim would go scot-free, he would put Aguirre in jail.
“Even if you don’t take the president literally, you take him all the time seriously,” Roque said of Duterte’s words of admonition for Aguirre.
“It was a very clear expression of concern that he will not allow suspected drug lords to go scot-free.”
Several lawmakers have asked Aguirre to resign over the incident, which prompted critics to say that the government’s war on drugs is indeed only aimed at the poor and powerless.
Aguirre has pinned the blamed on the Philippine National Police - Criminal Investigation and Detection Group for not including in its complaint as evidence Espinosa’s confession in a Senate hearing on his involvement in the illegal drug trade.
"'Yun pong sinasabi nilang admission ni Kerwin sa Senado, wala pong nag-file niyan. Hindi po iyan isinubmit bilang ebidensya dito sa kaso," Aguirre said in an interview on DZMM radio Wednesday.
Aguirre said prosecutors may only consider statements of high-profile drug suspects during preliminary investigation if these are submitted as evidence.
"Ang mga fiscal, hindi obligadong makinig [sa Senate hearing]. At kahit nakinig sila, unless we are submitting evidence, hindi po iko-consider iyun," he said.
CIDG chief Director Roel Obusan, meanwhile, explained that Espinosa's Senate testimony was not used in the complaint because he refused to corroborate this during the preliminary investigation.
Aristotle Reyes, a former member of the DOJ panel who the President has appointed as a court judge, meanwhile, defended his panel's decision to junk the drug charges, saying prosecutors can only rely on evidence submitted to them.
Reyes said the National Prosecution Service (NPS) cannot act as the CIDG's lawyer and advise police on what should be included in its complaint.
The NPS, he said, junked the police's "very weak" case because the affidavit of its lone witness, Marcelo Adorco, was rife with "material inconsistencies" about the dates of Espinosa's supposed criminal dealings and the identity of his alleged drug courier.