By JEFFREY G. DAMICOG
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has suspended three Pasay City prosecutors who are being investigated for their alleged involvement in jewelry smuggling at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
After Malacananag axed Justice Assistant Secretary Moslemen Macarambon Sr. over the issue, Guevarra ordered the suspension of Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office officer-in-charge Benjamin Lanto, Inquest Prosecutor Florencio dela Cruz Jr., and Associate Prosecution Attorney Clementine Villanueva.
The secretary also issed a separate order on May 25 designating Deputy City Prosecutor Dolores Pulgo-Rillera as officer-in-charge of the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office.
In the formal charge dated May 21 against Lanto, Dela Cruz and Villanueva, Guevarra said the three are being investigated by the Department of Justice (DoJ) Internal Affairs Unit over a “prima facie case” against them for gross neglect of duty, gross incompetence and inefficiency.
With this, Guevarra informed the three that they are “placed under preventive suspension for a period of 60 days, to take effect upon receipt thereof.”
The three prosecutors are under investigation for their questionable release of three suspects last May 6, namely, NAIA Customs Operations V Lomontod Macabando and married couple Abraham and Bang-sa Mimbalawang.
Macarambon was fired by President Duterte over allegations of intervening on behalf of the couple. The Mimbalawangs are parents of Macarambon’s daughter-in-law.
“Following the inquest proceeding, the three suspects were released, despite the evidence at hand,” Guevarra pointed out.
Macabando was arrested on May 5 at the NAIA by Customs personnel and airport guards after he was found in possession of a bag containing 1.9 kilograms of jewelry worth at least P6 million.
Guevarra said that the NAIA closed circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that Macabando accepted the bag from an unidentified man.
The Mimbalawang couple was intercepted at the NAIA Terminal 3 after arriving from Dubai. They “admitted to the authorities of their ownership of the bag subject of the exchange.”
The secretary directed the three suspended prosecutors to file their respective answers to the allegations including affidavits of their witnesses and documentary evidence within 10 days upon receiving the notice.
“Otherwise, failure to submit the same shall be deemed as a waiver of your right to be heard, and this Department, through the Internal Affairs Unit of the National Prosecution Service, shall make a recommendation on this case on the basis of the evidence on record,” warned Guevarra who also advised the three suspended prosecutors that they can seek the assistance of legal counsel.