The Department of Justice will review the coverage of self-confessed drug operator Kerwin Espinosa under the government’s Witness Protection Program after the DoJ indicted him on drug charges last week.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday that his office is set to review the WPP grant on Espinosa following the filing of another drug case against him before the Makati City Regional Trial Court.
“We will evaluate his WPP coverage when the panel resolution becomes final,” Guevarra said, following the latest DoJ resolution approving Espinosa’s indictment for violation of Republic Act 9165 or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, particularly conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade, in the complaint filed by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group that was previously dismissed by an earlier panel of prosecutors.
Guevarra said that Espinosa may be removed from the WPP should the DoJ finds no more reason to provide protection for him.
Should the DoJ decide to end its WPP coverage on Espinosa, he would have to be transferred to the City Jail while standing trial in drug cases before the Manila and Makati RTCs.
Espinosa was placed under WPP coverage in December 2016 after implicating now detained Senator Leila de Lima in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
Espinosa claimed that De Lima was one of his protectors and that she received P8 million in drug money from him when she was still Justice secretary.
De Lima has questioned the WPP coverage of Espinosa and asked the DoJ to end it after the key witness in the drug trading cases against her before the Muntinlupa RTC reportedly recanted his testimony earlier this year.
While testifying in the cases against De Lima, Espinosa has faced cases for drug trading and illegal possession of explosives and firearms before the Manila RTC Branch 26.
The cases before the Manila court stemmed from the police raid on the Espinosa residence in Binolho village in Albuera, Leyte in July 2016 where authorities seized illegal drugs and assorted firearms.
It was Baybay City RTC that initially handled the cases, which were later transferred by the Supreme Court to Manila RTC for security reasons.
The latest drug case before the Makati RTC, on the other hand, involves violation of section 26 (B) in relation to section 5 or Article II of R.A. 9165 against Espinoza and three others - convicted drug lord Peter Co, Lovely Impal and Ruel Malindangan.
The DOJ dismissed late last year the charges of sale, administration, dispensation, trading, delivery and transportation of illegal drugs against the respondents.
The previous panel composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Michael John Humarang and Aristotle Reyes dismissed the charges and faulted the PNP-CIDG for presenting weak evidence and the “inconsistencies” in the testimony of witness Marcelo Adorco.
However, after the preliminary reinvestigation by a panel chaired by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, the DOJ found probable cause and approved the indictment of the four respondents for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade.
The DOJ has not yet resolved the drug charges of the CIDG against Cebuano businessman Peter Lim after the panel granted his plea for a separate preliminary investigation.