DOJ eyes inviting journalists to probe on leaked indictment on magnetic lifters case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 26 2019 05:41 PM

MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into the premature release of information on the indictment of dismissed police officer Eduardo Acierto and 7 others to the media last week and “might” invite journalists to shed light on the matter.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in a text message to reporters Friday, said he has ordered Acting Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon to conduct a probe on how members of the media obtained details about the indictment.

Asked if he will invite journalists to the investigation, Fadullon said: “We might.”

Online news sites reported on April 17 that the DOJ has found probable cause to charge Acierto, former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) deputy chief Ismael Fajardo Jr., former Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban and 5 others for illegal importation of dangerous drugs under Section 4 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, citing a DOJ resolution dated April 8.

This is in connection with the successive recovery of magnetic lifters in August last year: 2 were abandoned at the Port of Manila which contained 355 kilos of shabu worth P2.4 billion and 4 more in in an abandoned warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite that PDEA believes to have contained 1.6 tons of shabu worth an estimated P11 billion.

The 5 others charged who were allegedly behind VECABA Trading, consignee of the 2 unclaimed magnetic lifters in the Port of Manila, are the following:

  • Chan Yee Wah Albert alias KC Chan/Fhonie Chan/Albert Chan/Chen Fong Hsiang
  • Zhou Quan alias Zhang Quan/Zhauq Quan
  • Vedasto Baraquel, Jr.
  • Maria Lagrimas Catipan
  • Emily Liquingan

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 35 Judge Maria Bernardita Santos ordered their arrest on April 12.

LEAK MIGHT COMPROMISE ARREST ORDER

Guevarra expressed concern that the leak might make it difficult for authorities to arrest 7 of the 8 accused who are still at large.

At the time the arrest warrants were issued, only Guban was in custody.

Of particular concern for Guevarra is Acierto, who had recently come out of hiding and accused former Duterte economic adviser Michael Yang of involvement in the illegal drug trade.

“He has been hiding since the Senate blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Gordon investigated the magnetic lifter drug smuggling cases. I supposed the leaked information of his impending arrest made him hide all the more,” Guevarra said.

Acierto had claimed the President himself ignored reports about Yang’s activities. He said he was being set up and implicated in the magnetic lifters shabu shipment case after he sent a report to then Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa and PDEA chief Aaron Aquino detailing Yang’s alleged illicit activities.

Dela Rosa had admitted Acierto approached him once about Yang but dismissed his credibility. 

Aquino, meanwhile, admitted seeing the report but said they had a hard time validating the information.

Guban, on the other hand, was under the DOJ's witness protection program (WPP).

But Guevarra confirmed to ABS-CBN News Friday that Guban’s WPP coverage had been terminated and that he was subsequently arrested by the NBI.

“Guban was placed under the WPP upon the request of Sen. Gordon during the time that the blue ribbon committee was conducting a legislative inquiry on the magnetic lifter cases. Considering that the inquiry had been concluded and threats to Guban's security had been reduced to manageable levels, we terminated his WPP coverage,” he said, adding that Guban was personally served a notice of termination although he could not recall the exact date of termination.

“But by then, our prosecutors had found probable cause against and indicted Guban, Acierto, et al. for illegal importation of dangerous drugs. Arrest warrants were thus issued, and the NBI took custody of Guban before he could disappear,” he added.

Guevarra said Guban will remain in NBI custody until the prosecution has determined during the trial if he could be recommended for discharge to become a state witness.

The NBI and PDEA had both previously said they do not think Guban should be considered a state witness. The NBI identified him as one of 3 alleged core conspirators of the magnetic lifters shabu shipment, along with Fajardo and Acierto.

Fajardo remains at large.