By Edu Punay, April 3 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday ordered an investigation on the alleged involvement of 13 judges in the illegal drug trade in the country.

In summer session in Baguio City, the justices decided to initiate a fact-finding probe on the reported inclusion of the unnamed judges in the narco list of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

The high court has authorized Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta to personally coordinate with PDEA for the list of names of alleged narco judges. 

“To address this matter immediately, the Supreme Court has tasked and has authorized Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta to coordinate and communicate directly with the PDEA for the list of judges allegedly linked to the illegal drug trade. This will pave the way for a formal fact-finding and administrative investigation by the Supreme Court,” SC spokesman Brian Hosaka said in a press briefing.

“The Supreme Court, like in the past, will not tolerate any illegal or corrupt activities within its ranks,” Hosaka vowed.

Peralta is currently the third most senior member of the high tribunal. His designation to lead the investigation, insiders explained, means that the Court is taking this issue “very seriously.”

The STAR reported last Monday that SC officials recently requested the names of the judges for an internal investigation, but PDEA has refused to share the information.

PDEA director general Aaron Aquino yesterday rejected the request of the Supreme Court to get a copy of the list of judges allegedly linked to the illegal drugs trade.

He said it is still premature to give the names of judges included in President Duterte’s drug list.

“The PDEA begs for understanding as we cannot provide the SC with the PRRD list of narco judges as it will still be revalidated by the concerned law enforcement agencies,” he said in a statement to The STAR.

Aside from PDEA, the three other agencies validating the narco list are the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police.

Aquino, on an official trip to Singapore, said they could also not give the names of prosecutors with suspected drug links for the same reason.

Aquino earlier said there are 13 judges and 10 prosecutors in Duterte’s narco list.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has also called on PDEA to share the names of the narco judges with the SC to allow the judiciary to conduct investigation and the names kept confidential until findings and actions of the Court have been made.

The SC had initiated an investigation on the four narco judges tagged by Duterte in 2016 – Exequil Dagala of Dapa-Socorro, Surigao, Adriano Savillo of Iloilo City, Domingo Casiple of Aklan and Antonio Reyes of Baguio City.

After probe by a special fact-finding panel led by retired associate justice Roberto Abad, the Court ordered administrative investigation against Reyes while it cleared the three other judges.

The high tribunal cited the findings of the panel that the judge accepted money for dismissal of drug cases based on affidavits of several witnesses and litigants involved in the alleged payoffs.

Reyes had denied the allegations, saying the acquittals were based solely on evidence.

On the case of Dagala, while he was cleared by the SC panel in the narco list, he was dismissed from the judiciary over another administrative case in 2017.

The Department of Justice, for its part, has likewise requested the PDEA for the names of 10 prosecutors tagged in the narco list.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he sent an official communication with PDEA last Monday.

“Once identified and there’s scintilla of evidence, I myself will lead the investigation against them. That (involvement of prosecutors in illegal drug trade) is unacceptable,” he stressed.

The DOJ chief stressed that the administration of President Duterte implements a zero tolerance policy when it comes to involvement of government officials in illegal drugs – especially in his department that is tasked to prosecute drug suspects.

Guevarra said his office would coordinate with PDEA’s Aquino for the conduct of a parallel investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the fact-finding and law enforcement arm of the DOJ.

Aquino said the judges and prosecutors on the list are not yet a priority as validation efforts are focused on case build-up against the 46 politicians named by President Duterte.

The PDEA chief said the list of judges, prosecutors and other drug personalities – including 31 celebrities – would still undergo validation, which he said would take time.

PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde favors naming in public the judges and prosecutors allegedly linked to illegal drugs.

He  said it is fair that the names are released similar to what was done to the 46 narco politicians named by Duterte in public.

“It was already done to other people so let’s just be fair to everybody,” Albayalde said.

“You will have your time in court. You can disprove the allegations,” he said, but admitted a the public has natural tendency to believe allegations of wrongdoing.

Presidential adviser

Malacañang is leaving it to former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang to decide whether to attend investigations on his alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade.

Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima has called for an investigation on Yang’s alleged illegal activities. The senator also asked the Senate to determine whether Yang abused his position as economic adviser for personal interest.

Yang, a Davao-based Chinese businessman, has been accused by dismissed police Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto of involvement in illegal drugs trade but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said the former policeman may be referring to another person.

De Lima, who is in jail over drug-related charges, also cited the need to inquire into the citizenship of presidential appointees like Yang as well as their influence over policies.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the administration is leaving it to Yang to decide whether to attend the Senate probe or clear his name before the public,

“That’s for him to decide for himself,” Panelo said, and that those who think Yang is into illegal drugs should just file charges instead of making accusations before the media.  – With Alexis Romero, Emmanuel Tupas