MANILA, Philippines – Alleged Visayan drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, one of the witnesses in the 2016 congressional investigations against Senator Leila De Lima, was cleared of one of several drug trade charges after the star witness admitted to the court that he was “forced” to make claims of drug sales and transactions.
The Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 64 denied the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration in an order dated May 30, but received by Espinosa’s lawyer Raymund Palad on Friday June 3.
The same court dimissed the case in December last year, but the prosecution filed a motion, which was junked in the latest order.
The newest order, composed of only three pages, said the prosecution failed to bring new evidence and therefore sustained its December 2021 ruling.
DOJ loses its bid to convict Kerwin Espinosa for conspiracy to commit drug trading. Makati court already cleared Kerwin on demurrer (meaning, junked outright) last December. This is a denial of DOJ’s motion for reconsideration @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/QVXn8zpieo— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) June 3, 2022
‘The case crumbles’
In the December 2021 order, Judge Gina Babat-Palamos said that because key witness Marcelo Adorco retracted, “the prosecution’s case against the Espinosa group crumbles.”
Adorco, supposedly the runner of the alleged Espinosa drug network, was the key witness in the case. The Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution even wanted to turn him into a state witness, but the court did not allow.
But in 2020, Adorco retracted every drug transaction that he described before, saying he was forced by police officers led by Liuetenant Colonel Jovie Espenido, and that he did it for fear for his life and safety.
Judge Palamos said that “while as a rule, recantations are viewed with suspicion and reservation, there exists special circumstances, such as the glaring violations of Adorco’s constitutional rights, which raises doubts as to the veracity of his initial testimonies.”
The prosecution tried to convince the court to rely on the statements of the police officers who took Adorco’s testimonies, but the judge thumbed it down because “taken collectively [they] are not strong enough to show that the Espinosa group conspired to commit illegal trade or illegal trafficking of dangerous drugs.”
Palad said Espinosa still faces separate, but similar, drug trade charges in Makati, Manila, Pasay, and Leyte. As such, Espinosa will remain in jail because these are non-bailable offenses.
Espinosa was a witness in Congress who accused De Lima of being involved in the New Bilibid Prison drug trade. But even Espinosa has retracted his claims against De Lima.
Incoming justice secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said he is open to looking at the possibility of the prosecution dropping the charges “if it’s the only recourse.”