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Duterte: NBI to solely probe drug shootout
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. yesterday said the Chief Executive also ordered the Philippine National Police and PDEA to refrain from pursuing the conduct of a separate investigation through the PNP’s Board of Inquiry – a joint investigation that was launched on Thursday to look into the incident which left two QCPD members, a PDEA operative and an informant dead and four others wounded.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

Duterte: NBI to solely probe drug shootout

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — To avoid partiality and bias, President Duterte has designated the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as the sole agency allowed to probe the shootout between members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Quezon City Police District last Wednesday along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. yesterday said the Chief Executive also ordered the Philippine National Police and PDEA to refrain from pursuing the conduct of a separate investigation through the PNP’s Board of Inquiry – a joint investigation that was launched on Thursday to look into the incident which left two QCPD members, a PDEA operative and an informant dead and four others wounded.

“The President has decided that only the NBI will investigate the encounter between the agents of the police and PDEA in Quezon City. The President likewise ordered the joint panel formed by the PNP and PDEA to discontinue their ongoing investigation. This is to ensure impartiality on the Quezon City shootout incident,” Roque said.

He added that the President was saddened upon learning about it last Wednesday and expressed disappointment on why law enforcers – supposedly working together to fight the drug problem – fired at each other.

Even before this order, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had already directed the NBI to conduct a parallel but separate investigation on the incident.

Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, in a Viber message, said “the PNP readily submits to the instructions of the President” and has ordered its men to defer the probe.

PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon begged off from making any comment, noting that the order came from Malacañang.

However, PNP Internal Affairs Service inspector general Alfegar Triambulo said they would still look into the incident, focusing on the possible administrative liabilities of some officers and leave the criminal side of investigation to the NBI.

“We are doing the probe as part of our mandate to conduct motu proprio investigations,” he said in a phone interview.

The policemen who died in the encounter, Cpls. Lauro de Guzman and Galvin Eric Garado, were decorated officers based on their personal data sheets. De Guzman had at least 29 PNP medals in a career that started in 2014. Garado, on the other hand, had 31 medals in recognition of his accomplishments since he became a policeman also in 2014.

Yesterday, the PDEA identified its fallen member as Rankin Gano, a 43-year-old agent who was also decorated for various accomplishments in the government’s war on illegal drugs. He started his career in 2013 as a member of PDEA’s special weapons and tactics unit.

Carreon said they would give financial assistance to Gano’s family and shoulder his burial arrangements.

Meanwhile, former PNP chief and now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa said the two agencies might have been “played” by a drug syndicate and possibly aided by some corrupt law enforcers.

“One of my theories there is that, if both operations (of the PDEA and PNP) are truly legitimate... one tragic possibility is that they were played by the drug syndicate (and) pitted against each other. Maybe the informants, assets they used, were part of a large syndicate, orchestrated from above, saying ‘this is what you do so these law enforcers kill other’,” he told radio dzBB in Filipino.

He added that if his theory is true, it could mean that drug syndicates are aiming to undermine President Duterte’s war on drugs.

Citing his experiences in police investigations, Dela Rosa also expressed his suspicion that some of the law enforcers at the scene could be involved in illegal drugs.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto expressed confidence that the inquiry could piece together a “seconds-from-disaster” timeline even as he stressed that the committee should also look into the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire.

“The Senate has the power and the prerogative to investigate the PDEA-PNP shootout. And with two ex-PNP chiefs in the chamber, I have no doubt that it will be able to uncover the truth,” Recto said, referring to Dela Rosa and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, also a former PNP head.

“People are demanding answers on why a supposedly coordinated operation ended up as a circular firing squad. And it seems that the one institution trusted by the people who can shed a powerful light on the incident, in a manner that is fast, fearless and fair, is the Senate,” he added.

Rep. Ace Barbers, House of Representatives dangerous drugs committee chair, also raised questions on the still limited information made public by both PNP and PDEA.

“Both police and PDEA claim their respective anti-drug operations in Ever Gotesco are legitimate. If this is so, there could have been no firefight because there should be coordination between them as required under Section 86 of Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) before any legitimate anti-drug operation can be carried out,” he pointed out.

Barbers said the reported “presence of high-ranking police officers” during the operation is “another suspicious angle that we want to investigate,” as well as clarify news reports that PDEA agents were engaged in a “sell bust” – a term that refers to the illegal practice of selling drugs during an entrapment operation.

“If this is so, PDEA’s sell bust operation is not legal because it borders on the illegal act of instigation and drug selling or trafficking. If PDEA adopts sell bust as its policy, then it would appear that this organization is like a drug syndicate for practicing and allowing drug trafficking,” Barbers explained.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero supported Barber’s call to investigate, saying the information given by PDEA and PNP only raised “more questions than answers.” “The only question that matters really is that who was the buyer and who was the seller during that drug bust operation. It cannot happen that both agencies were the buyers. Even in a buy bust operation, it’s still illegal to play the role of a seller under Republic Act 9165,” stressed the 1-Pacman party-list congressman, who is also an anti-drug abuse advocate.

Quezon City 2nd district Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo also supported the panel’s move to investigate, revealing her intention to file a resolution to determine “the adequacy or inadequacy of RA 9165.”

She said the law provides that the PDEA “shall be the lead agency in the enforcement of the Act, while the PNP, NBI and other law enforcement agencies shall continue to conduct anti-drug operations in support of the PDEA, provided that the agencies shall, as far as practicable, coordinate with the PDEA prior to anti-drug operations.

“Is the provision on coordination clear enough for our law enforcers to avoid incidents such as what happened in my district on Wednesday? Does Congress have to make it clearer by, for instance, requiring agencies to disclose the details of their intended anti-drug operations?” Castelo asked.  –  Emmanuel Tupas, Paolo Romero, Edu Punay

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