Cops close ranks for chief, ‘ninjas’

The Philippine National Police on Saturday stood by its comrades tagged in the reselling of confiscated illegal drugs in 2013, saying former police chief Oscar Albayalde and 13 other so-called “ninja cops” “remain innocent until proven guilty.” 

READ: Narco-cops in two groups bared: ‘ninja liit, volt in’“All accused remain innocent until proven guilty,” the PNP said in a statement, a day after a Senate panel recommended the filing of criminal charges against Albayalde and his men.

“The PNP will let justice, fairness, and due process of law take its course,” the statement read.

It is up to Albayalde and other involved police personnel to “address the other side issues that may come with their possible criminal indictment as recommended by the Senate panel,” it said.

On Thursday night, President Rodrigo Duterte warned policemen involved in the illegal drug trade that he could be “more evil” than they were and dispatched a controversial police officer to Bacolod City so he could “kill everybody” involved in illegal drugs.

READ: Rody to ‘ninja’ cops: I could be more evil

Speaking before a business conference, Duterte said criminals and cops who sell illegal drugs did not have a “monopoly of evil in this country.”

“It’s a very stupid paradigm because I can be evil like you, and more than, if I want to be,” he said. “I still have two years; I can create hell for everybody.”

Two days earlier, Duterte dressed down Philippine National Police officials in a command conference over allegations that some of them were reselling illegal drugs that were seized during raids, even though he had doubled policemen’s salaries.

The scandal over ninja cops led to the resignation of Albayalde when testimony before a Senate hearing said he tried to stop the dismissal of 13 of his subordinates who kept 160 kilos of shabu for themselves after a 2013 drug bust in Mexico, Pampanga.

READ: PNP chief gives up post

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, led by Senator Richard Gordon, earlier released a preliminary report saying the former police chief and his men violated provisions of anti-graft and anti-drug laws when they allegedly sold at least 160 kilograms of shabu worth around P648 million seized in a raid in 2013.

READ: Gordon: Senate report on Albayalde, ninja cops on hold

The 13 “ninja cops” tried to cover up the incident, while Albayalde intervened in the implementation of sanctions against his former subordinates, the panel said in its report.

The PNP admitted that Duterte was dismayed over the controversy that cast doubt on the police force’s capability to be on the frontline of the government’s war on drugs.

“We fully understand his [Duterte’s] frustrations and misgivings over the recent turn of events involving some PNP personnel. But we will not let him down,” the PNP said.

“We assure our people that the PNP remains on track with renewed vigor to reform itself into the ideal shape to fight crime, illegal drugs, and corruption,” the agency said.

Duterte earlier warned “ninja cops” and rogue police officers that he could be “more evil” than them and “create hell for everybody” in his last 2 years in office.

“The PNP will let justice, fairness, and due process of law takes its course. All accused remain innocent until proven guilty,” PNP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a statement.

On Friday, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon and justice and human rights committees, presented the initial report, recommending graft charges against Albayalde and the “ninja cops”.

Banac also said it was up to the lawyer of the former PNP chief to take action on the findings of the Senate hearing.

“We leave it to Police General Oscar Albayalde and the other concerned PNP personnel, with their respective legal teams to address the other side issues that may come with their possible criminal indictment as recommended by the Senate panel,” Banac said.

“We assure our people that the PNP remains on track with renewed vigor to reform itself into the ideal shape to fight crime, illegal drugs, and corruption,” he added.

He said the PNP was responsive to President Duterte’s challenge and the public’s call for change.

Albayalde on Monday relinquished his post and went on non-duty status less than a month ahead of his retirement on Nov. 8.

Before stepping down, Albayalde sought some legal advice from lawyer Estelito Mendoza, amid allegations dragging him into the controversy.

Albayalde, who was Pampanga provincial police chief at the time of the assailed anti-drug raid, was relieved from his post due to command responsibility.

During the Senate investigation on “ninja cops”, an issue which stemmed from a probe on the irregularities in the implementation of the Good Conduct Time Allowance, it was revealed that Albayalde allegedly tried to intervene in the implementation of the dismissal order against the cops involved in the raid. 

Duterte also said he had asked Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido, the police officer who gained notoriety for leading deadly operations against drug-linked politicians, to go to Bacolod City in Negros Occidental so he can “kill everybody.”

Duterte said he assigned Espenido to Bacolod because of the proliferation of illegal drugs in the city.

“Bacolod is badly hit now. I placed Espenido there. I said, ‘Go there, you are free to kill everybody. Start killing there. The two of us can go to jail,’” Duterte said.

Early this year, Duterte sacked Bacolod’s police chief and four other police officers over their alleged drug links.

Espenido currently serves as deputy city director for operations of the Bacolod City Police Office.

He was the chief of police of Albuera, Leyte and Ozamiz City where the two mayors, Rolando Espinosa Sr. and Reynaldo Parojinog, were killed in police operations in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International slammed Duterte for his remarks, saying that the government must focus on probing police abuse instead of inciting violence.

“This encouragement of bloodshed must end once and for all, and efforts toward this must begin at the highest levels of government, notably the President himself,” AI Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said in a statement Friday.

“We reiterate that an important first step to ending this cycle of violence and impunity is to direct the police to stop the killings and bring to justice those found to be involved in previous abusive operations,” he added.

Olano also said that Espenido should not have been promoted and appointed to a higher position given his involvement in bloody operations in the past.

“It appears that under this administration, not only illegal drugs but also errant cops are being recycled, and, more worryingly, rewarded,” Olano said.

In 2017, he was recognized by President Duterte for his contributions to the government’s anti-drug campaign.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, however, said Espenido should follow the rule of law.

“You know the President, he’s fond of exaggerating to emphasize a point. But you cannot do that literally, you cannot kill everyone you want dead,” Año said in Filipino in an interview on radio dzMM. You can only use reasonable force if they resist and fight, and you are in danger.”

AI, along with other human rights organizations, has been criticizing the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics crackdown, which has claimed thousands of lives in both police operations and vigilante-style killings.

Police figures showed that about 6,000 have been killed in the drug war since Duterte took office in 2016, but human rights groups peg the fatalities at 20,000.

Meanwhile, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency agents and policemen seized 88.49 kilos of shabu worth about P600 million and arrested six suspects in Gandara, Samar on Thursday.

“I commend all the personnel involved in this successful operation. I made it sure that during my watch, this kind of illegal operations will not succeed. That’s why we put more efforts and doubled our work in the performance of our duties,” said Brig. Gen. Dionardo Carlos, police regional director, after the suspects were presented to the local media.

The suspects, in two vehicles, were intercepted along Maharlika highway at Barangay Buñagan, Gandara town at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The illegal drugs were from Manila bound for Cebu.

The National Police Commission is optimistic it could submit findings on the “ninja cops” controversy before Albayalde retires from service next month. 

“We will see to it before Nov. 8 all the documents necessary would have already been submitted to the offices concerned na dapat namin pagdalhan ng output ng investigation na ito (where we should send our output in this investigation), especially the Office of the President and the secretary of the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government),” Napolcom vice chairman and executive officer Rogelio Casurao said Saturday.

In an interview on dzMM radio, Casurao said that an investigation involving Albayalde should be resolved while he was still in service. With MJ Blancaflor and Ronald Reyes

READ: 13 ninja cops face new probe

READ: 'Senate can prove PNP chief's guilt'

READ: Senate to unmask ‘ninja’ cops

READ: Narco-cops worse than felons—Duterte

Topics: Philippine National Police , illegal drugs , Oscar Albayalde , “ninja cops”
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