THE regional trial court (RTC) in Valenzuela City dismissed anew the drug charges filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Chinese businessman Chen Julong, alias Richard Tan, and customs broker Mark Taguba and seven others, this time on the ground of forum shopping.
The dismissal, however, did not necessarily mean the accused were already off-the-hook as they have to face trial for similar drug charges refiled by government prosecutors before the RTC in Manila.
Valenzuela City RTC Branch 171 presided by Judge Maria Nena Santos issued a ruling on December 12, 2017, dismissing the drug-importation charges filed against the same accused for lack of jurisdiction.
She held that the crime of importation of dangerous drugs was already consummated when the drug shipment arrived at the Manila International Container Port on May 15, 2017.
Aside from Taguba and Tan, those named as co-accused were alleged middle man Li Guang Feng, alias Manny Li; Dong Yi Shen Xi, alias Kenneth Dong; import company owner Eirene Mae Tatad; Customs broker Teejay Marcellana; Taiwanese businessmen Chen I-Min; Jhu Ming Jhun; and Chen Rong Huan.
“Filing a case for importation in Manila after the court in Valenzuela City dismissed an earlier case for importation for lack of jurisdiction, and then filing another case, this time for transportation, before this court involving the same accused and based on the same facts, issues and arguments, clearly bears the hallmarks of forum shopping,” Valenzuela RTC Branch 284 Presiding Judge Arthur Melicor said in his nine-page order.
“From the point of view of the conspiracy to import the subject shabu, it may be said that the transport and delivery to the Hong Fei warehouse was a mere part of a series of acts to execute their shared design to import shabu,” Melicor added.
Forum shopping happens when a case is filed in two separate courts in hopes one of them will rule favorably.
The case stemmed from the Bureau of Customs’s (BOC) discovery of the shabu shipment at the Hong Fei Logistics warehouse in Valenzuela City on May 26, 2017, based on a tip from its counterparts in China.
The shabu shipment managed to enter the country through the BOC after being declared as kitchenware, footwear and moldings.
The DOJ found probable cause to indict the accused for allegedly conspiring to transport and deliver dangerous drugs under Sections 5 and 26 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The 604-kilogram shabu shipment is one of the biggest hauls of smuggled drugs in the country, and was subjected to a lengthy Senate hearing, which also led to the resignation of former Customs Commissioner Nicanor E. Faeldon.
The issue also landed Faeldon in jail after his repeated failure to attend the chamber’s investigation into the illegal-drug shipment.