By Paolo Romero, October 4 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — For “lying” and being “evasive,” the Senate yesterday cited in contempt a police officer who led the controversial raid in November 2013 in Pampanga where he and his men allegedly kept over 160 kilos of shabu taken from a trafficker and sold the drugs on the streets.

Members of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee unanimously voted to detain police Maj. Rodney Baloyo IV in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Sen. Panfilo Lacson moved to have Baloyo cited in contempt after he insisted on his version of what transpired during the Nov. 29 raid in a subdivision in Mexico town – that it took place in the afternoon, yielded only 38 kilos of shabu, and the suspect they presented to authorities and the media was the same person they arrested during the raid.

The Blue Ribbon committee is conducting a probe on the so-called “ninja cops” or police officers who pilfer confiscated drugs and sell them.

The controversy has involved Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde as he was Baloyo’s superior at the time as Pampanga provincial police director.

A separate internal PNP investigation conducted in 2014, the details of which were bared in the inquiry, showed the raid actually took place at around 10:30 a.m.; over 200 kilos of shabu worth about P700 million were confiscated and a certain Johnson Lee was apprehended.

The investigation showed Lee was later released after paying P50 million. He was replaced with another Chinese identified as Wenkum Ding who was also arrested in Clark that day.

“Where in God’s country is Major Baloyo weaving his web of lies,” committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon remarked.

Senators suspect Baloyo’s tampering with the time of the raid had something to do with the disposition of the drugs they kept for themselves.

Before citing Baloyo in contempt, Lacson was grilling him on how the anti-drug operation started.

Baloyo, who was Albayalde’s intelligence officer at that time, said the raid was initiated by a “walk-in” informant at around 2 p.m.

Lacson, a former police officer himself, doubted that an operation of such magnitude could have been launched in such short notice.

He cited a report from Baloyo shortly after the raid where he indicated the raid was a product of several days of surveillance.

“The conclusion is there is no such thing as walk-in asset. This was really a project,” Lacson said.

Retired PNP general Manuel Gaerlan, who was part of the investigation against Baloyo and his men at the time, testified that he found many inconsistencies in the report and discovered the “suspect switching.”

“When we found he (Baloyo) was lying in his memo, he has ceased to become my officer,” Gaerlan said.

Gaerlan briefly took over as Pampanga police chief after Albayalde was relieved following the controversial raid.

Sen. Franklin Drilon asked Baloyo whether he still stood by his narrative and whether he thought Gaerlan was incorrect. The police officer remained quiet.

“That (silence) validates the statement that you’re lying. We’ll put you behind bars until you tell the truth. But if you remain evasive, you’ll be behind bars until this Congress expires in 2022,” Drilon told Baloyo.

Baloyo led a 13-man team during the Pampanga drug sting operation. The 13 policemen were later subjected to an investigation and were recommended for dismissal from the service, including Baloyo.

At the same hearing, Gordon questioned Police Brig. Gen. Amador Corpus for issuing a resolution modifying the penalty from dismissal to a one-rank demotion instead.

Baloyo himself was demoted a rank lower from police lieutenant colonel, or superintendent.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Blue Ribbon committee might hold accountable the officials who recommended the one rank demotion instead of proceeding with the dismissal.

Sotto said the police officials who modified the penalty could not give good basis for doing so.

“I cannot see any basis for simply demoting them,” he said.

The PNP, for its part, is trying to locate Lee who reportedly bribed his way to escape.

PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said the police Drug Enforcement Group (DEG), the  Central Luzon regional police and intelligence

units had been tasked to locate Lee’s whereabouts.

Banac said they will coordinate with the Bureau of Immigration to find out if Lee is still in the country.

Militant lawmakers in the House of Representatives, however, wanted Albayalde and other police officials implicated in the drug recycling controversy to resign.

The six-member Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate filed House Resolution No. 416 seeking the resignation of Albayalde and others tagged in the scheme.

They said the resignations would allow a credible investigation into the drug recycling controversy.

In the same resolution, the group also called on the Office of the Ombudsman to initiate the filing of charges against Albayalde.

“These ‘big fish’ must be held accountable as the ones who commit the biggest and worst violations of our laws against drugs and victimize innocent people,” they said.

The lawmakers cited the testimony of Magalong in the Senate inquiry. – Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe