Who is Eduardo Acierto: Criminal cop or whistleblower?

MANILA, Philippines – Drug allegations are inching closer to Malacañang, this time hitting President Rodrigo Duterte’s longtime acquaintance and former economic adviser Michael Yang.

The allegation: Michael Yang has possible links to illegal drugs that could reach up to Duterte’s hometown Davao City, yet police and Palace officials neglected investigating Yang thoroughly. (READ: Ex-cop Acierto speaks out: Duterte, PNP ignored intel on Michael Yang's drug links)

This has raised questions about the Duterte government having different standards in its relentless anti-drug campaign: is the government lukewarm to probing people close to him, while thousands – on mere suspicion of using drugs – have been killed in his violent anti-drug campaign?

All these allegations have come from one man: Eduardo Acierto, a former policeman who has zero credibility as far as the administration is concerned, but for the opposition, a new whistleblower.

Acierto the good cop

Hailing from Manila, Acierto graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1989. He was originally set to graduate in 1988 but got delayed.

Hindi siya nangunguna sa academics, ‘di rin siya kulelat. ‘Di siya palagi napapansin (He did not excel in academics, but he was also not among the last. He didn't stand out),” one of his original ’88 classmates told Rappler in a phone interview.

But outside the academy, he turned into a pioneer anti-drug operative.

In 2003, he was included in the founding team of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s first separate anti-drug unit – the Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF).

There, Acierto took part in drug busts across the country up until he was promoted to commander of an anti-drugs unit before becoming its executive officer.

He remained inside the anti-drug group even after it expanded into the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) in 2015.

Inside the AIDG, he was able to rise to the deputy chief for administration position, which he kept until 2017. That was when the unit was abolished after its members were implicated in the Camp Crame murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo.

When the AIDG was reestablished as the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (DEG), he stood again as the elite anti-drug group’s deputy chief for administration. In an interview with reporters on March 27, PNP chief Director Oscar Albayalde said they found no links between Acierto and the AIDG men who were accused of killing the South Korean.

With so much experience in anti-drug operations, Acierto has earned the reputation of being among the PNP’s most seasoned anti-drug operatives. Police sources said that he even gets his tips from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency.

His accomplishments include the raiding of a drug laboratory in Antipolo in 2003; the 2006 dismantling of the shabu tiangge in Pasig City, which led to the arrest and life imprisonment of Amin Imam Boratong and his wife; the 2005 seizure of 675 kilos of shabu worth P1.3 billion and the subsequent extradition of financier Calvin Tan from Hongkong; the seizure of almost a ton of ephedrine at a clandestine laboratory on Scout Chuatoco; and the 2015 arrest of Mexican Horacio Herrera, believed to be a member of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.

In 2016, he led the AIDG team in one of the first law enforcement operations which took down a shabu laboratory. Backed up by local cops and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Acierto and his teammates brought down a "mega shabu lab" in Cauayan, Isabela, which led to the death of two suspects and the seizure of an assortment of drug manufacturing equipment.

Acierto the bad cop

His accomplishments are only matched by the controversies that hounded him.

He was first ordered dismissed from the police service in 2015 by the Office of the Ombudsman after being implicated in the police’s P100-million dubious deal with the courier company Werfast in 2011. This was when Acierto was serving as the chief of firearms and licensing in the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office.

It was this same anomalous deal that got former PNP chief Allan Purisima dismissed.

Acierto contested the decision and was able to get himself reinstated in the service up until the Ombudsman’s verdict was reversed by the Court of Appeals in 2018.

But Acierto was not off the hook.

Later in August 2018, Acierto was dismissed from the service again by the Ombudsman after he was found to have taken part in selling a thousand AK-47 rifles to communist rebels between 2011 and 2013.

Before he could appeal again, what followed has been the biggest counter to all of his work so far as a drug operative.

In October 2018, he was accused of masterminding an estimated P13-billion shabu shipment in July: shabu worth P2.4 billion intercepted at the Manila International Container Port stuffed inside abandoned magnetic lifters, and P11 billion-worth of missing shabu suspected to be packed in similar containers found in Cavite.

His main accuser: Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban.

During Senate and House hearings, Guban disclosed that Acierto had coursed cash through him to facilitate the shipment of the magnetic lifters later believed to be packed with shabu – complete with the rental of a warehouse, and the use of a fall guy as a fake mastermind.

Guban added that the tip to intercept the P2.4-billion shipment came from Acierto himself. Guban said Acierto had asked him for help to pull out the abandoned lifters, but Guban supposedly insisted on just intercepting the shipment. Acierto supposedly agreed.

“Colonel Acierto was providing staggered or piecemeal information as a tip or tips until we were able to locate the illegal drugs,” Guban said.

With over 40 other individuals, Acierto has been accused by the PDEA of conspiring to import drugs in violation of Section 5, 26, 30, and 32 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, obstruction of justice, and negligence and tolerance by public officials.

Acierto never attended hearings at the House of Representatives, but attended two sessions at the Senate. In the one chance he was given to speak extensively, he tried to clear his name while admitting mistakes in the line of duty.

“These years of experience have taught me a lot and I’ve learned from them. I see the uniqueness in the illegal drug menace from other crimes as it victimizes all sectors of society, sparing no one,” Acierto said during his first appearance at the Senate on September 26, 2018.

Months later, Acierto is in hiding, afraid that he would be killed for speaking out. – with reports from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com

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.

image