Albayalde intervened in dismissal of Pampanga 'ninja cops' – PDEA chief

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde allegedly intervened in the dismissal of Pampanga "ninja cops" who were ordered to be dismissed, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Director General Aaron Aquino said before a joint Senate  investigation on Tuesday, October 1.

According to Aquino, back in late 2016 when they were regional directors – Aquino for Central Luzon and Albayalde for Metro Manila – Albayalde made a phone call to Aquino about the case of alleged "ninja cops" set to be dismissed over questionable 2013 anti-drug operation

"Sinabi niya sa akin, Sir, for the meantime, baka puwedeng ipa-review muna 'yan, kasi gusto kong malaman kung ano talaga ang mangyayari sa result ng investigation na iyan," Aquino said at a Senate hearing on the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) issue that was devoted to the ninja cops controversy on Tuesday.

(He told me, Sir, for the meantime, maybe you can have that reviewed, because I want to know what will happen to the result of that investigation.)

Aquino said he asked why Albayalde, a former Pampanga provincial chief, was doing this.

"Kasi, Sir, mga tao ko 'yan (Because, Sir, those are my people)," Aquino recalled Albayalde telling him.

Aquino talked about Albayalde's phone call when asked at the hearing whether he ever got a call from anyone in relation to the Pampanga cops' case. 

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who sat beside the PDEA chief, urged had Aquino to tell the senators what he had told Magalong, who was PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) at the time of the incident.

"Sabihin mo kung anong sinabi mo sa akin. Sinong kumausap sa 'yo (Tell than what you told me. Who talked to you)?" Magalong told Aquino during the hearing, before the PDEA chief relayed the call from Albayalde.

During the Senate hearing, Albayalde said he did not "influence" the investigation and merely asked for a status of the case because of questions of the cops' families.

"Yes, I asked for the status – only the status. I could not possibly influence an RD or an upperclass. I’m just an acting NCRPO then. Because people are just asking me the fate of these policemen," Albayalde explained. 

"It’s normal but never in one time did I ask for any favor. I was asking for the status," That’s why General Aaron here asked for the review of the case which is normal in the process of the Philippine National Police,"  he added.

Meeting with Duterte

During the course of the hearing, Magalong confirmed that he and Aquino met with President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go at the Manila Hotel, following the ninja cops controversy. 

He said that in his recollection, Aquino, responding to the President's questions, said that Albayalde had called him "not to implement" the dismissal order.  

"Sinabi na niya sa akin, inulit niya kay President, na tinawagan siya ni General Albayalde na ‘wag i-implement 'yung order (He had told me this, and he repeated it to the President, that General Albayalde called him not to implement the order)," Magalong said. 

In an ambush interview after the hearing, Aquino reiterated that what he said was that Albayalde asked for a status of the case, and that he, in response, said he would let his "chief regional service lawyer review the case."

As a result of Albayalde's call, Aquino did not implement the order pending the review of the case. In the meantime, he assigned the erring cops to Mindanao as a form of punitive action. 

In March 2014, then PNP chief General Alan Purisima ordered the relief of Albayalde as Pampanga police chief in viewof  "command responsibility" in connection with the irregular drug raid conducted by Pampanga police in  Mexico town in November 2013. 

Thirteen cops were ordered dismissed then, but the order for dismissal was downgraded to a one-rank demotion in 2017. 

In response to the questions of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon during the Tuesday hearing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the 2013 case was pending automatic review of his department. 

"All records are with us. I hope within a month’s a time a resolution will be issued by the DOJ one way or another," Guevarra said.

Albayalde said he would await the results of the DOJ review for further action.

The issue of drug recycling among cops was revived during the PDEA budget hearing on September 16 when Aquino, in response to senators' questions, confirmed  that the act persisted to this day, even with the Duterte administration's war on drugs.

Magalong later bared the names of the cops involved in "drug recycling" in an executive session with senators on September 19. 

Following his earlier revelation, Albayalde withdrew the PDEA chief's security escorts, saying they exceeded the usualnumber, and that more cops were needed to be deployed to secure the Southeast Asian Games in November. He later restored Aquino's security detail.  – With reports from Aika Rey/Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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