Congressional probes on shootout also discouraged
President Duterte meeting with PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas and PDEA director general Wilkins Villanueva at Malacañang the other day. Also in photo are Sen. Bong Go and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Congressional probes on shootout also discouraged

Emmanuel Tupas (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte does not want any independent probe even by Congress on the deadly shootout last Wednesday between policemen and operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

The President’s position, aired by his spokesman Harry Roque Jr., was consistent with an earlier directive that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) solely investigate the incident, which cost the lives of four people.

“Just to give the National Bureau of Investigation (a chance) to investigate properly,” Roque said in a text message.

Roque replied “yes,” when asked if the President had asked Congress to hold off a probe.

Reporters sought Roque’s reaction after Surigao del Sur Rep. Robert Ace Barbers announced yesterday that he was suspending any inquiry into the matter in the light of President Duterte’s order that only the NBI should investigate the case.

Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, had initially set the inquiry for tomorrow.

“In light of President Duterte’s instruction to the NBI to conduct an impartial investigation on the PNP (Philippine National Police) and PDEA incident, our scheduled committee hearing/investigation in aid of legislation on Monday, March 1, 2021, is temporarily suspended as a courtesy to and in order not to hinder the ongoing investigation,” Barbers told reporters in a text message.

The lawmaker earlier cited the need for a probe on the incident, citing highly questionable details on the supposed anti-drug operations conducted separately by the PNP and PDEA.

“These things will have to be clarified in order for us to introduce proper legislation, timely as it is because we have just approved on second reading the proposed amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act which we intend to address situations such as this,” he stressed.

Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo had also called for an investigation of the shootout primarily to determine the adequacy or inadequacy of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

At the Senate, former police chief and now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, also postponed the inquiry which he had initiated and scheduled for Tuesday.

Duterte met with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, PNP chief Debold Sinas and PDEA secretary general Wilkins Villanueva at Malacañang on Friday to hear their accounts of the shootout. It was after the meeting that Duterte announced that only the NBI would investigate the incident.

“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,” Roque said on Friday.

“This is to ensure impartiality” in the investigation, according to Duterte’s spokesman.

Criminal liability

Justice’s Guevarra said that the NBI would focus “principally on the criminal liability” of those involved. He also said “the NBI is not precluded from making a determination of administrative liability too.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) has jurisdiction over the NBI.

“The PDEA and the PNP chiefs offered no clear theories as their investigation had barely begun. Dealing with the death and trauma of their operatives was their immediate concern,” Guevarra said.

“But the concern on his face was palpable,” he added, referring to Duterte’s reaction after listening to the officials.

Guevarra stressed there was no finger pointing during the meeting as both the PNP and PDEA chiefs based their stories on video recording of the incident.

“I requested that both the PDEA and the PNP be directed to extend their full cooperation to the NBI,” Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message.

NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said the agency’s investigation – which began on Thursday – involves 50 officers from the NBI-National Capital Region performing various tasks like gathering forensic evidence, interviewing witnesses and even conducting autopsies on fatalities.

“We would request for the turnover of pieces of evidence and witnesses in the custody and possession of the board of inquiry, PNP and PDEA,” Lavin said.

He said ballistic examination of the bullets and slugs at the crime scene would also be conducted.

“We also received the accounts of witnesses. We are still hoping for the turnover of closed circuit television footage,” he said in Filipino.

“The NBI’s investigation would be wide. All possible angles would be looked into… This is a priority case for the NBI,” he added.

Police fired first?

Meanwhile, CCTV recording of the shootout aired on GMA News on Friday showed anti-narcotics officers of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) were the ones who initiated the shootout with PDEA agents outside a fastfood outlet on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

The video recording showed PDEA men putting water in a parked car’s radiator.

At around 5:45 p.m., two men – who turned out to be policemen – approached the vehicle and shot one of the PDEA men. The other PDEA operatives who were nearby responded and a shootout ensued.

The two men, who later turned out to be members of the QCPD’s District Special Operations Unit (DSOU), were killed during the initial clash.

The video contradicted an initial police report claiming PDEA agents fired the first shots.

The report said policemen were in the middle of a drug bust on several individuals who turned out to be PDEA operatives.

The PDEA operatives were about to bring their wounded men to the hospital when they were attacked again, sparking another exchange of gunfire.

Two policemen, a PDEA agent and an informant died in the clash. The QCPD has not issued a statement on the video.

Three PDEA agents wounded during the clash are recuperating in an undisclosed hospital. A police officer was also wounded in the incident.

PDEA’s Villanueva, for his part, urged his men to calm down and refrain from posting messages on social media platforms.

“While the tide has turned in our favor, may we please enjoin everyone to exercise restraint,” he said.

PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) inspector general Alfegar Triambulo said they would make a backtrack examination of the scene by about a month before the shooting.

He said they want to know if the two groups had previous activities at the site before the shootout. – Robertzon Ramirez, Ralph Villanueva, Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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