(UPDATED) - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday, March 13, denied any hand in the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors to acquit alleged drug lords Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa.
He also clarified that the DOJ's decision is not yet final.
"Procedurally, my office has no hand nor say on the resolution of this case," Aguirre said.
"Suffice it to say that the current status of the case against the respondents Peter Lim, et al., does not mean that it is a final exoneration of their respective criminal liabilities. Under our present procedure in the DOJ, there are possible avenues to review this case, either by a motion for reconsideration, or ultimately, by way of automatic review by my office," Aguirre added.
He said the dismissal is a slight bump in the administration's war on drugs and "a wake-up call to all concerned that our efforts, from apprehension to resolution to conviction, must be concerted and thorough."
"However, we remain committed to waging the war on drugs," he said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., for his part, said the case against Lim and Espinosa is "far from being closed."
He said the executive department would instruct the Philippine National Police (PNP) to file supplemental evidence against Lim and Espinosa, as the DOJ will conduct an automatic review of the dismissal order.
"We understand the sentiments and the frustration of the public over the dismissal, but stressed that the police can refile the case, can introduce additional evidence," Roque told a press conference.
"We would like to assure the public that the dismissal (of drug-related charges against Lim and Espinosa) is far from being final. It is in fact subject to automatic review by Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre (II) and we look forward to the review to be made by Secretary Aguirre," he added.
The DOJ has dismissed the drug-related charges against Lim and Espinosa, who are both accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being the alleged top drug lords in the Visayas.
The Justice department, in its resolution released Monday, March 12, cleared Lim, Espinosa, and several others of charges related to illicit narcotics trade for lack of evidence.
Espinosa went into hiding in United Arab Emirates but returned to the Philippines in November 2016 after his father, Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, was gunned down by Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) agents inside his detention cell in Baybay sub-provincial jail in Leyte.
Lim, a Cebu businessman, met with Duterte in July 2016 and assured the President that he would prove his innocence.
Roque gave assurance that the Palace would closely monitor the impending review of the DOJ's ruling to dismiss drug-related charges lodged against Lim and Espinosa.
He said the government would not let "big fish(es)" get vindicated, especially if there are sufficient grounds to hold them accountable.
"If however, it is necessary to file additional evidence, we will prompt police authorities to do so. We will not allow big fish[es] to go away, if there's evidence to go after [Lim and Espinosa]," he said.
"What's important is we are sure that the decision to dismiss [the case] is based on evidence. And if not, the authorities will make a move to pursue the case," he added. (SunStar Philippines)