Leviste parole imperiled after Batangas drug raid

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Three weeks after being freed on parole, former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste might be sent back to prison if he is shown to have knowledge of the activities in his Batangas farm of an illegal drug syndicate linked to the notorious Mexican drug cartel.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued the statement following the Christmas Day drug raid on Leviste’s ranch, wherein more than P420 million worth of shabu was seized and three suspected drug ring members were arrested.

“If it will be proven that he was aware of this drug facility inside their property, which is apparently being rented out, then it could be a criminal offense and it could be a ground for withdrawal of the parole,” she told reporters in a press conference.

“This is, however, not definite yet. That’s why we still have to investigate,” she clarified.

De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ), through investigating Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, is set to issue a subpoena requiring Leviste to produce and submit the lease contract of the property where the shabu storage facility was found.

She said investigators had confirmed that Leviste owns the LPL Ranch in Barangay Inosloban where raiders found 84 kilograms of shabu (methamphetamine) during a raid.

Leviste walked out of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City last Dec. 6 after being granted parole following incarceration for the 2007 killing of his long-time aide Rafael delas Alas.

The DOJ chief cited section 30 of Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002), which penalizes the owner of a property or establishment “who consents to or knowingly tolerates or authorizes the use of a facility” for illegal drug production or trade.

In granting parole to Leviste, the Board of Pardons and Parole explained that Leviste had met all the requirements for his conditional freedom, including serving of minimum period of his sentence for homicide conviction.

The BPP also cited Leviste’s being cleared by the Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 62 of Makati for violating his “living out” privilege and roaming around his LPL Building in Makati in May 2011.

Also cleared was his driver Nilo Solis de Guzman.

Unlike pardon, parole is conditional as grantees are still required to report to parole officers. Under the rules, it may also be revoked if a parolee commits crimes after leaving the penitentiary.

Arrested in the Batangas raid and subjected to inquest on drug charges were Gary Tan and couple Argay and Rochelle Argenos.

But the DOJ chief also questioned why the police did not include in the referral complaint a certain Jorge Torres, believed to be leader of the group with links to the notorious Mexican Sinaloa drug syndicate.

“The police should also charge these members of the Mexican drug syndicate if they are sure about such report or at least put them under John Does,” De Lima explained.

“We will be expecting another formal referral from the PNP on that and also on the angle of ownership (of Leviste on the property),” the DOJ chief added.

Torres is now the subject of a manhunt, it was reported.

Checking with BI

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said they would check with the Bureau of Immigration on why notorious members of the Mexican drug cartel were able to slip into the country.

“We will check that particular information with the BI,” she said. Valte said she received information that one drug suspect even carried a US passport.

“So we’ll have to check the entry records. Part of their prosecution also… is the checking of how they were able to enter the country,” she said.

“Or if their papers were in order, or something might have really been missed. That is something that should also be looked into after the capture of the ring,” she told Palace reporters.

Valte nonetheless lauded the Presidential Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police for establishing the identities of members of the drug cartel, as well as for seizing prohibited drugs in the Batangas farm of Leviste.

“The knowledge of their presence and their operations here would make it easier for our operatives to identify and to target them,” she said, citing “increased coordination” among PDEA, PNP and NBI anti-drug operatives.

“This paves the way for the sharing of good information, which leads to the capture of either smugglers or these rings here,” Valte added. 

BI spokesperson Ma. Angelica Pedro said the agency is coordinating with PDEA to determine the identities and get more information about the individuals linked to the Sinaloa drug syndicate reportedly operating in the country.

“They are still in the process of getting the names and we are coordinating with the PDEA,” said Pedro.

Once they have been supplied with names of the suspects, the BI would verify their status and check if they have any derogatory record.

She declined to give other details, saying the “issue is sensitive” and that they “do not want to preempt whatever investigation the PDEA is doing.”

BI Commissioner Siegfred Mison said they are also in communication with the International Police (Interpol), which provides the bureau relevant information on foreign nationals with criminal records in their home countries or those included in the watch list of countries.

Death sentence

 Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is seeking the death penalty for foreigners found guilty of trading illegal drugs in the country.

Aside from the Mexican drug cartel, Rodriguez said Chinese syndicates and the so-called West African group are peddling drugs in the country.

It is not a remote possibility that the notorious Colombian drug traffickers would soon operate in the Philippines, he said.

“Many foreign nationals are now emboldened to establish their drug factories in the Philippines because once convicted, they only suffer life imprisonment as opposed to the capital punishment that they may suffer in their countries,” Rodriguez said.

He pointed out that while the death penalty had been abolished, “some sectors of society believe that this law is not just and equitable, because while foreigners may not be executed in the Philippines for drug trafficking, Filipinos who commit the same are executed in other jurisdictions.”

Rodriguez cited the case of three Filipinos executed in March 2011 by Chinese authorities for drug possession. The most recent case is that of a 35-year-old Filipina, who was put to death last July 3 also for possessing illegal drugs.

“This is sad, or even unfair, because when Filipinos are caught drug trafficking abroad, they may be imposed the death penalty, as we have seen in the 2011 and 2012 executions of four Filipinos by China,” he said.

“While there is no reason to question the laws of foreign countries, we must, however, ensure that our countrymen do not suffer the short end of the stick. As such, there is a need to amend our laws so that foreign nationals caught trafficking in drugs here are meted out the harshest penalties that their national law imposes,” he stressed. Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

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