DOJ downplays loss of P6.4B shabu case in Valenzuela, says Manila trial going 'well'

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Thursday, May 3, that despite the recent loss in a Valenzuela court, the “fight goes on” in holding people accountable for the P6.4 billion worth of shabu which was smuggled from China to the Philippines in 2017.

Guevarra is confident because the drug importation charges have been refiled at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC), where respondents are already in jail and undergoing trial.

“The same has been refiled with Manila RTC and is proceeding well,” Guevarra said.

Context. The Department of Justice (DOJ) under resigned secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II filed drug importation charges at the Valenzuela RTC because the shabu was seized in a Valenzuela warehouse. 

In January, the Valenzuela RTC dropped the case for lack of jurisdiction saying that the alleged crime of importation happened at the Manila port.

Prosecutors immediately refiled the case at the Manila RTC, which ordered the arrests of the customs brokers and Chinese middlemen.

Broker and whistleblower Taguba is now detained, while the others are still at large.

What recently happened? On Thursday, media learned that the Valenzuela RTC Branch 248 dismissed a case of drug transportation against the same respondents.

It turned out that the DOJ prosecutors did not only refile drug importation charges in Manila, they also refiled drug transportation charges in Valenzuela.

Branch 248 Judge Arthur Melicor dismissed it, saying: “Filing a case for importation in Manila after the court in Valenzuela City has dismissed an earlier case for importation for lack of jurisdiction, and then filing another case, this time for transportation, before this court involving the same accused and based on the same facts, issues and arguments, clearly bears the hallmarks of forum shopping.”

On first impression, Guevarra said he did not agree with the dismissal, but was still confident because it did not touch on the merits of the case.

“In any event, I’ll make sure that the proper remedial action is taken to rectify any procedural misstep. The fight will go on,” Guevarra said.

The DOJ under Aguirre dismissed twice the motions to include resigned customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon in the charge.

But on Wednesday, the Office of the Ombudsman said it will pursue a preliminary investigation  against Faeldon for graft and violating drug regulations.

The Office of the Ombudsman’s fact-finding panel cleared from the investigation President Rodrigo Duterte’s son Paolo Duterte and son-in-law Manases Carpio. The two were linked to the so-called Davao group, said to be an influential group within the Bureau of Customs. (READ: TIMELINE: How P6.4-B worth of shabu was smuggled into PH from China)

Taguba said the younger Duterte was name dropped by the members of the Davao Group, who are still unidentified to this day.

What happens now? It is unclear whether the DOJ will pursue drug transportation charges in Manila.

What is certain is that the trial continues in Manila for Taguba, fellow brokerTeejay Marcellana; Chinese middlemen Richard Chen, Manny Li, Kenneth Dong; and Eirene Mae Tatad, Teejay Marcellana, Chen I-Min, Jhu Ming Jyun and Chen Kong Huan.

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.