By Paolo Romero, October 4 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino disclosed yesterday that he and his family have been receiving death threats since he disclosed that there are some ranking police officers included in the operations of “ninja cops” who sell drugs seized during anti-drug operations.

A teary-eyed Aquino made the disclosure at the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee inquiry into the involvement of police officials in the so-called recycling of confiscated shabu, when he clarified his previous statements on the controversial phone call Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde made to him sometime in 2016.

“I am feeling pressure and in a quandary since the last hearing. I was thinking of my family who are now put in much deeper danger,” Aquino said.

Aquino said he received a phone call a few days ago from a friend who told him, “Sir, pinaghahandaan na nila ang pamilya mo (Sir, they are plotting something against your family).”

He said he felt helpless after receiving the information, especially that only recently, his security escorts from the PNP were pulled out.

“I know the pressure and challenges of the position as the main anti-drug enforcer in the country. But I literally broke down into pieces after hearing the information, I feel so helpless and defeated,” he said.

He said he kept asking himself whether his fight against illegal drugs was worth it when his family, including a 12-year-old son, is now in danger.

Aquino said it was never his intention to malign the PNP, where he had served for 36 years, adding he has even arrested and charged at least five PDEA personnel involved in drug pilfering and trafficking.

“Knowing the sad reality of recycling of illegal drugs does not make PDEA or the PNP bad or worse. It means we have to exert all means to cleanse our ranks and put a stop to the cycle,” he said.

The PDEA chief attributed his anxiety over the confusion that arose after he testified about Albayalde’s call inquiring about the dismissal cases filed against his men in connection with a suspicious anti-drug raid on Nov. 29, 2013 in a subdivision in Mexico, Pampanga where over 160 kilos of shabu worth P650 million were allegedly kept and later sold when the PNP chief was then provincial police director.

Albayalde was relieved as provincial director for command responsibility while his men, led by his intelligence chief then Lt. Col. Rodney Baloyo IV, were investigated on allegations that they declared only 38 kilos of the drugs and released the suspected trafficker Johnson Lee after the drug dealer paid P50 million to the arresting officers.

Albayalde was later appointed by President Duterte as chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

Aquino, who was chief of the PNP Region 3 in 2016, received a call from Albayalde.

Aquino testified yesterday that during that phone call Albayalde inquired about the status of Baloyo and the rest. When he asked why, the then NCRPO chief said because they were his former subordinates.

The PDEA chief also said Albayalde requested him “not to implement” the dismissal order.

Aquino said he told Albayalde he would have the case reviewed first by his legal officer and, in the meantime, he would send the police officers to Mindanao, where suspected PNP scalawags were being deployed at the time.

Albayalde maintained he did not try to influence Aquino, adding that the police officers had filed an appeal that was partially granted.

“Whether I called or not, nothing changed in his decision. It’s clear here that General Aquino was not influenced,” Albayalde said.

During the hearing, retired general Manuel Gaerlan testified on what he knows of Albayalde’s involvement in the raid.

Gaerlan was dispatched as officer-in-charge in Pampanga after Albayalde was relieved and was also among those tasked to investigate the raid.

He said he immediately saw discrepancies in Baloyo’s report, especially on the time of the raid. Baloyo insisted that it took place at 4:30 p.m. but witnesses issued sworn statements that the operation was conducted at 10:30 a.m.

He said it appeared that Albayalde was not informed about the operation beforehand.

“When I saw in his (Baloyo) report that he was duping his superior, he ceased to become my officer,” Gaerlan said.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who linked Albayalde to Baloyo’s operation, expressed doubts that Albayalde was not aware of the drug recycling.

Magalong, who was chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group at the time of the Pampanga raid, said Albayalde should have immediately noticed that something was very wrong with Baloyo’s raid.

He said there was no proper inventory of the drugs, there was no chemist and there were no pictures of the site.

“All these should have triggered red flags,” Magalong told the inquiry, adding Albayalde should have immediately conducted an investigation “but it never happened.”

“I’m not accusing anyone but why was there no logical action where there are glaring violations in the operation?” he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee, chided Albayalde for his alleged lapses.

“You dropped the ball big time,” Gordon told Albayalde.

He noted it was only Baloyo and Albayalde who stated the raid happened in the afternoon.

The PNP chief, however, replied that he only signed Baloyo’s report as a “ministerial” act but later took action on the matter.

Drug war

Albayalde said Magalong’s allegation that he protected ninja cops is hampering the momentum of the government’s war on illegal drugs.

He lamented that police efforts were put to waste due to Magalong’s claims linking him to the ninja cops, placing a dent on their campaign and affecting the organization’s morale.

“In just one word of one man, all our efforts vanished like a bubble,” Albayalde said in Filipino over radio station dzXL.

Albayalde did not hold back his anger against Magalong, who investigated the alleged recycling of 200 kilos of shabu by local police officers who seized the drugs in Mexico, Pampanga when Albayalde was provincial police director.

Magalong, according to Albayalde, apparently has a “personality problem” and likely jealous that he became PNP chief. – With Romina Cabrera, Cecille Suerte Felipe