THE Justice department will start today its preliminary investigation into the drug charges filed against Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim and several others as it determines the eligibility of self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa as a state witness against his co-accused.
The preliminary hearing involves the complaint for sale, administration, dispensation, trading, delivery and transportation of illegal drugs filed against Lim, Espinosa and several others by the Philippine National Police.
The department starts its hearing even as an official said Sunday the Commission on Human Rights was upset over the use of “drug boxes” in some barangays to gather the names of suspected drug users and pushers.
But CHR spokeswoman Jacqueline Ann de Guia clarified they were supporting the government’s campaign to fight the dangers brought by the use, sale, production and distribution of illegal drugs.
The agency reacted to a move of several local governments resorting to the use of drop boxes to identify suspected drug offenders, and the posting of drug-free home stickers through peace and order councils at the barangay level.
“The Commission fears that the manner of pursuing personalities involved in illegal drugs violates the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution, infringing on their human rights guaranteed under local law and applicable international law,” the commission said in a statement.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Espinosa may opt to submit an affidavit detailing the participation of Lim in the illegal drug trade and get immunity from prosecution.
“The inclusion of Kerwin Espinosa in the criminal case, in the drug offense, can be discharged before the actual trial or even during the trial of the case,” he said.
Espinosa had implicated Lim as the top illegal supplier in Central Visayas during the Senate inquiry into the illegal drug trade last year.
But Aguirre said the eligibility of Espinosa would depend on the assessment of the investigating prosecutors, especially since the law required that a state witness should not be the most guilty of the crime charged and that his or her testimony was necessary for the successful prosecution of the case in court.
“The panel [of prosecutors] should assess the statements and evidence first. I would not want to make a definite decision on this yet because I might be the one to be called to make the final judgment,” Aguirre said.
His department has already summoned Lim and the other respondents to answer the charges against them.
They were required to appear before investigating Assistant State Prosecutors Aristotle Reyes and John Michael Humarang in a hearing at 10 a.m. today, and to submit their counter-affidavit to the complaint filed by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
Apart from Lim and Espinosa, also facing drug charges are inmates Peter Co, Marcelo Adorco, Max Miro, Lovely Adam Impal, Ruel Malindangan and Jun Pepito.
Lim surrendered to President Rodrigo Duterte last year after his name was mentioned among those behind the narcotics trade in the country but denied any involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Espinosa, a confessed drug dealer and son of slain drug Lord Mayor Rolando Espinosa, was placed under the government’s witness protection program after he testified in the drug charges against detained Senator Leila de Lima. Co, on the other hand, is a high-profile inmate in the New Bilibid Prison who was recently brought back to the maximum security compound.
Impal was also arrested by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency last January.
The complaint tagged Lim as the alleged supplier of illegal drugs to the group of Espinosa.