3 prosecutors suspended over release of smuggling suspects

MANILA -- The Department of Justice (DOJ) suspended three state prosecutors for allowing the release of three suspects who tried to smuggle some PHP6 million worth of jewelry into the country through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 last May 5.

In a two-page formal charge signed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Benjamin Lonto, officer-in-charge of the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office; State Prosecutor Florencio dela Cruz, Jr., inquest prosecutor; and Associate Prosecutor Clementine Villanueva were placed under a 60-day preventive suspension pending the results of the investigation on charges of neglect of duty, gross incompetence and inefficiency.

The charges against the state prosecutors stemmed from their decision to release NAIA Customs Operations Officer Lomonto Macabando, and alleged gold smugglers, spouses Abraham and Bang-sa Mimbalawang, who were charged for the seizure of 1.9 kilos of undeclared jewelry despite the presence of evidence against the suspects upon inquest proceedings.

The Justice department directed the three prosecutors to answer the charges and submit the respective affidavits of their witness within 10 days.

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 (IAU) of the National Prosecution Service, shall make a recommendation on this case on the basis of evidence on record, Guevarra said.

Guevarra also asked the prosecutors to indicate in their answers whether they would prefer a formal hearing of their case.

The case was forwarded to the IAU for investigation and submission of its recommendation.

It can be recalled that on May 5, a CCTV at the NAIA caught an exchange between an unidentified man and Macabando of a bag containing at least PHP6 million worth of assorted gold jewelry.

The couple admitted to the authorities of their ownership of the bag subject of the exchange.

Macabando and the Mimbalawang couple were arrested and subjected to inquest proceedings last May 6 at the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office.

Meanwhile, Guevarra designated Deputy City Prosecutor Dolores Pulgo-Rillera as OIC of the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency