POSTSCRIPT / March 15, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Don’t play games with the people

AS FATHER of the nation, President Rodrigo Duterte should not play games with the people, confuse them with conflicting statements and divide them at a crucial time when what the nation needs is unity.

Duterte’s latest trick is to appear to clear, through Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, several high-profile personalities facing narcotics charges, including his kumpadre businessman Peter Lim and self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa – and then backtracking.

The President could not have been unaware of what his justice secretary was doing for him, but adding drama to his disowning Aguirre’s misstep, Duterte threatened to jail him in place of the drug duo whom he has just cleared in a surprising move.

Some observers grown tired of the frequent flip-flops of Duterte and his coterie of acrobats, are beginning to suspect that the announcement of the dropping of charges against Lim, Espinosa and others was just to test the public temper.

What for is the seemingly deliberate move to misinform or mislead the people? That is the multimillion-peso question.

The news was met with a generally negative reaction, including the dismay of Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido, now Ozamiz City police director, who put together the case and braved the flak that flew after his team shot dead Espinosa’s father in 2017 while in detention in Albuera, Leyte.

Seeing the uproar, the President is distancing himself from his justice secretary’s throwing out of the charges. His spokesman Harry Roque jumped in to say that the case was still alive, and Aguirre announced that he would form another panel to revive it.

The administration’s acrobatics look like vaudeville to the max. As we’ve said, the President cannot be unaware of what his justice secretary has been doing about a case that is central to his drug war for which he has been pilloried here and abroad.

Aguirre himself cannot pretend to be unaware of the buildup of the case that has been propping up Malacañang’s drug-dealing charges against Sen. Leila de Lima, a critic of Duterte’s alleged human rights violations dating back to his tenure as Davao City mayor.

Unless he has been sleeping on the job, Aguirre — and presumably the President — must have known of the DoJ resolution (clearing Lim et al.) all along. The complete documentation has been there since Dec. 20, 2017, although made known only on Monday, March 12.

It was not like the DoJ resolution popped up from nowhere only this week to the surprise of Aguirre and the President. (The other accused are Peter Co, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito and Lovely Adam Impal.)

The case was dismissed supposedly because of weak evidence and the inconsistencies of a key witness. How could there be such lapses in its preparation when the government’s massive network was cast to build an air-tight case against De Lima to realize Duterte’s expressed wish to see her rot in jail?

Duterte’s inconsistencies and “urong-sulong” political dance steps, exhibited in his public appearances where he would deliver rambling speeches that give audiences an inkling of how his mind works, have been confusing to many people.

It is hard to determine if the constant changing of presidential declarations — made more confusing when his spokesman and ventriloquists chime in with their own renditions — is deliberate or traceable to some problem.

Whether deliberate or simply a result of a mental habit – or maybe somebody’s having a hard time remembering what he had said in another place at another time – the confusion is not serving the public good.

We would sleep more soundly if we knew for sure that our President always levelled with the people and would not consider playing tricks on us.

• De Lima victim of selective persecution?

THE DISMISSAL of the Lim-Espinosa case is being cited as an example of the inconsistency in the Duterte administration’s handling of parallel drug cases.

While the charges against Lim, Espinosa and five other drug dealers were dropped through a DoJ resolution that was kept from the public for three months, the administration is able to keep De Lima in detention by simply sitting on the case.

De Lima is in jail after being indicted before a Muntinlupa court for allegedly conspiring with inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in selling or trafficking illegal drugs while she was justice secretary exercising supervision over the penitentiary.

The senator allegedly amassed millions that she used in her senatorial bid in 2016. She has denied all the charges.

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said Tuesday that the uneven treatment underlines the “political nature” of the administration’s war on drugs. Social media bristles with comments about the administration’s supposed “selective (in)justice.”

Hilbay said in a text to reporters: “Friends, allies, useful witnesses are exonerated, while political diss(id)ents are incarcerated on bogus charges.”

He noted that Peter Lim was identified by no less than his kumpadre the President as a drug lord, while his co-accused Peter Co is a convicted drug lord.

The dismissal of charges against Lim et al., he said, should be viewed in the context of the “political persecution” of De Lima marked by the amendment of the charges, the use of disqualified witnesses and the dispensing with the need for evidence.

In clearing Lim et al., Hilbay said, the justice department used “matters that were conveniently dropped” in De Lima’s case — the “basic requirements” of corpus delicti  (“body of the crime”) or concrete evidence, and the need for credible witnesses.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 15, 2018)

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