Pimentel willing to approve Kerwin’s request for immunity but the final decision is up to DOJ

MANILA — Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said on Thursday he is willing to grant suspected drug lord Kerwin Espinosa with immunity but the final decision will come from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Pimentel made this remark following the request of Espinosa’s legal counsel to provide him with legislative immunity from suit before he testified in the Senate inquiry into the death of his father, Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa on Wednesday.

During the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III raised the need to consult Pimentel about providing Espinosa with immunity and later proceeded to allow Espinosa to read his affidavit.

Espinosa claimed that former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima received some PHP8 million from him in exchange for protection to continue the illegal drug trade. He also implicated some policemen from Region 8 as having received drug money.

Pimentel explained that witnesses in legislative hearings can be endorsed by the committee to the DOJ for inclusion in the Witness Protection Program (WPP) when approved by the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“There is a request by the committee. My initial feeling is there are good grounds to support the endorsement, and I will approve it, but it’s not tantamount to inclusion in the WPP because the administer of the program is DOJ. There are also disqualifications who cannot be accepted in the WPP,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel explained that there are also instances where a witness could be disqualified under the WPP, including a violation of dangerous drugs laws.

“Once accepted under the WPP, and once such immunity is included in his terms of coverage, that is what will happen. I’ll give it to the Secretary of Justice (Vitaliano Aguirre II) to investigate,” he further said.

Asked about his thoughts on Espinosa’s testimony, Pimentel said he has not yet read his affidavit but he has already noticed several inconsistencies.

The Senate President said that the photo of Espinosa together with De Lima did not prove that illegal transactions related to illegal drugs were made.

“I think it’s unfair to produce a picture and say you know a person, especially if it was taken in a public place. I’m sure I have a lot of pictures taken with people I do not know,” he said. Azer Parrocha/PNA-northboundasia.com