Gamboa warned police station chiefs and district commanders to shape up or be sacked from their posts.
Boy Santos
PNP chief: Cops under probe for drug links deserve confidentiality, impartiality
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 13, 2020 - 4:26pm

'I promise the public: If ever they are involved, we will pursue them'

MANILA, Philippines — Police Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa, Philippine National Police chief, asserted the need to protect the identities of the 357 cops being probed for possible involvement in illegal drugs, citing the need for confidentiality and impartiality.

Gamboa also echoed his earlier statement to reporters that he would not comment on the matter further. 

According to media reports on Wednesday, among the 357 cops was Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido, whom the president has often praised for his participation in the government's "war on drugs". 

READ: Espenido sacked for suspected drug links?

"I'd like to make a statement that I will not confirm nor deny that Espinido is on the list," Gamboa said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart".  

"I promised to the 357 that I would not divulge their names in the media. I want to maintain a confidentiality in this aspect."

'Right to privacy'

Gamboa also bared his displeasure with the press earlier that morning after journalists pressed him for comment over Espenido's inclusion in the list. 

"I feel insulted. Sinasabi ko sa inyo, I will not answer," Gamboa said. 

READ: PNP chief 'insulted' by media reports on Espenido's narco-list inclusion

The police chief said his public comments, especially to the media, could potentially get in the way of the judicial process for the 357 cops. 

"When you open your mouth as Chief PNP, it becomes policy. Once I open my mouth and comment on the personalities who are listed in the 357, baka hindi na ma-adjudicate ng maayos kasi sinabi na ni chief na ganyan," he said.

Although maintaining that he would be sure to study the situation as it developed, Gamboa asserted that the police officers on the list should be given due impartiality. 

"I want them to enjoy the impartiality that they should be afforded of, kasi it will undertake two processes: first at the regional adjudication board then it will be submitted to the national adjudication board. After that they will give their recommendation to me. Of course, I will still have the discretion to study the recommendation." 

He said Thursday that "hopefully everybody is going to respect the confidentiality issue that I brought up. I would rather stick to my promise to the 357 and observe confidentiality and be subjected to all kinds of conclusions."

Gamboa was named PNP chief on January 17. His predecessor, former Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde, retired after going on "non-duty" status over allegations that he had tried to protect his subordinates over irregularities in a drug raid in Pampanga in 2013.

Albayalde has since been indicted "for persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations in connection with the official duties of the latter, and for causing any undue injury to any party, including the government."

'Narco-lists'

The police officers in the alleged list are not the first to be put on supposed lists of officials linked to the illegal drug trade.

"An official's right to privacy is not absolute and there is a compelling reason to prioritize the state and the people. As your president, my ultimate concern is the pursuit of order in government," Duterte said in March 2019 as he read out names in a third such list. He said then that he trusted "the government agencies that have vetted and validated the narco-list."

'Optional retirement'?

The 357 police officials have reportedly been given the option to retire early to save the PNP from shame and to reduce their workload.

READ: PNP warns commanders: One strike, you’re out

“I am open for optional retirement of those who are involved,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

He defended this opportunity again on Thursday, saying it was the more convenient option for the PNP. 

"This is an option that you can avail of. When the adjudication starts, you're going to use resources of the government," he said. 

The police chief asserted that he was not trying to clear them and that this was not an easy way out. "I told them that this option is good only so that hindi mo mapahirapan ang PNP," Gamboa said. 

READ: 46 cops snub drug test; now AWOL

If proven to be involved in the drug trade, Gamboa said, any officer who initially availed of the option will be placed in a separate list of civilians that is separate from those within the PNP. 

However, PNP rules stipulate that retiring cops still receive retirement pay, particularly those who served on the force for over a decade. "The monthly retirement pay shall be fifty percent (50%) of the base pay and longevity pay of the retired grade in case of twenty (20) years of active service," a briefer available on the PNP website says.

Gamboa defended this option, saying, "when you serve government, when you put your sweat, you put your life on the line."

"This is an option in recognition of the services they have rendered. You know, PNP personnel might have been involved in drugs [but] sometimes their choices are very limited. If you've served 15 years in government, nagpawis ka rin," he added.

"I promise the public: If ever they are involved, we will pursue them."

The Palace backed up this sentiment later that day, saying that police officials who opted into early retirement could still be charged. 

'Preserving police integrity'

In a release, detained Sen. Leila de Lima also expressed suspicion over Espenido's sudden inclusion in the narco-list. 

"Espenido must know a lot to make him a target himself. Has he lost his usefulness? Or is he now a threat to his top boss because of what he knows?" De Lima wrote. 

"Let’s see how this new mystery would unravel in the increasingly messy terrain we now have under an unstable leader. As I always say, this regime can never defeat or destroy the Truth."

"Mas paigtingin natin ang kampanya laban sa katiwalian. Kailangan natin linisin ang ating hanay upang mawala ang anay na sumisira sa ating organisasyon," the police chief said in a tweet shortly after his interview. 

"[T]o those who are [guilty], watch out for yourself," he said.

Just days ago on Monday night, a Maguindanao mayor, who had been named in the government narco-list, was gunned down outside a hotel in Quirino Avenue in Manila. — with reports from The STAR/Emmanuel Tupas

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