MANILA, Philippines – Where is shipper Richard Chen? Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Thursday, January 11, that even he himself is not sure.
A Valenzuela court cleared Chen of charges of importing illegal drugs in connection with the P6.4-billion worth of shabu shipment smuggled into the Philippines in May 2017. Also cleared were middlemen Manny Li and Kenneth Dong, and brokers Mark Taguba and Teejay Marcellana. (READ: TIMELINE: How P6.4-B worth of shabu was smuggled into PH from China)
“I just wanted to lay the facts before you – that he might be... he has no impediment in leaving the country…and so we didn’t know if he will be still persistent in trying to leave the country through some other means or with help of some people. We even don’t know… kung nandito pa siya (he’s still here),” Aguirre said.
Chen is on the immigration lookout, but that doesn't stop him from leaving the country.
It seems there are a lot of hurdles to getting accountability in the smuggling of shabu from China to Philippines, and a lot of them has to do with limitations set by the law.
The Valenzuela Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 171 recently dismissed the charges against 5 of the 9 respondents in the shabu smuggling case due to the lack of jurisdiction.
Branch 171 Judge Maria Nena Santos said her court has no jurisdiction over the shipper, middlemen, and brokers since their alleged crime of importing illegal drugs happened in the Manila Port, not in Valenzuela.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the charges in Valenzuela because the warehouse with the illegal shipment is in that city.
The DOJ panel of prosecutors is appealing Santos’ decision, as they try to exhaust the definition of importation.
“Iyong pagdala sa Valenzuela is just a part of the importation. In other words, it is a continuing process kaya’t 'pag ganyang continuing offense kahit saan – in any place where one of the elements of the offense happened – pupuwede mong i-file diyan,” Aguirre said.
(Taking the drugs to Valenzuela was just part of the importation. In other words, it is a continuing process, so if it’s a continuing offense – it can be anywhere, any place where one of the elements of the offense happened – then you can file it there.)
Aguirre said they are expecting a decision as early as Monday, January 15, if the Valenzuela court will listen to their petition and reverse the dismissal.
Only the charges against consignee Eirene Mae Tatad and Taiwanese nationals Jhu Ming Jhun and Chen Rong Huan, who are linked to the Valenzuela warehouse, remain.
Aguirre claimed Chen was getting help from a Bureau of Immigration insider, who reportedly tried to bribe an immigration officer in a provincial airport, but the officer rejected the bribe.
“Kung totoo iyong sinabi noong BI na iyon, a BI employee who is AWOL, na nag-o-offer ng P10 million bribe, ni-reject lang ng ating supervisor immigration officer, so, kung totoo iyon, then at the very least, an attempted case of corruption of public officers is being committed,” Aguirre said.
(If what he said is true, a BI employee who is now AWOL, that there is an offer of a P10-million bribe, it was just rejected by our supervisor immigration officer, if that is true, then at the very least, an attempted case of corruption of public officers is being committed.)
Ins and outs of the case
Chen is the alleged owner of the Philippine Hongfei Logistics Group of Companies Incorporated, the importer of the drugs shipment. Dong is supposedly Chen’s link to Taguba.
Dong is in jail for a rape charge. He was hastily arrested inside the Senate premises after he testified in a hearing there.
In his testimony at the Senate hearing, Dong denied his alleged close ties to the presidential son and resigned Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, saying they were just acquaintances.
Aguirre defended his prosecutors, saying it was not their duty to run after evidence. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), he said, could not take on a more proactive role due to President Rodrigo Duterte's memorandum at the time, assigning PDEA as sole agency in the war on drugs. (READ: Aguirre: Duterte’s drug war memo bars NBI from investigating Faeldon)
Faeldon has since been reappointed to the Office of Civil Defense, although he is still detained inside the Senate for contempt.