Name names or shut up.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued the challenge Thursday to an officer of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who claimed that three drug lords have a “protector” in the National Bureau of Investigation.
De Lima lamented that the attacks on the NBI by Senior Supt. Jose Mario Espino, the sacked head of the CIDG’s Anti-Organized Crime Division (AOCD), were “getting out of hand.”
Espino said that some NBI agents were protecting Li Lan Yan, alias Jackson Dy, just a day after he claimed that the two NBI witnesses who claimed that his men had taken money and drugs from Dy were lying.
“I challenged them (CIDG) to name them now, as in now!” De Lima told reporters, shortly after she met with NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas in her office at the Department of Justice.
In this way, she said she would “immediately summon” the concerned NBI agents so she could confront them on Espino’s allegations. “Otherwise, they should shut up,” De Lima said of Espino.
De Lima said she planned to talk to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas about the PNP-CIDG tirades against the NBI, which is under her office.
On Wednesday, De Lima was angered by the CIDG when they identified two NBI witnesses in the Dy case, saying the police unit was liable for violating the confidentiality provision of the Witness Protection Program.
De Lima stood by the two witnesses’ testimony and wondered why the CIDG was “burning our witnesses.”
Espino, for his part, expressed disappointment on De Lima’s statement that she found the testimony of the two witnesses to be believable, thus prejudging the case against the CIDG.
The CIDG’s tirades against the NBI came shortly after De Lima lashed out at and demanded an explanation from the CIDG when Ozamiz robbery-holdup leader Ricky Cadavero and his henchman, Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr., ended up dead on July 15 in the hands of their police escorts.
De Lima had asked why the CIDG did not turn over then newly recaptured Cadavero and Panogalinga to the Bureau of Corrections after it was announced at a news conference held by Secretary Roxas in Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters.
Turning the tables on his accusers, Espino said recaptured drug trafficker Dy and his wife, Wang Li Na, enjoyed protection from an NBI official, whom he did not name.
Chinese general’s son
Li Tian Hua, acknowledged as the biggest supplier of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) in the country, also enjoyed protection, “being a son of a Chinese general,” he said without elaborating.
Espino said his team came to know about this when it was investigating Dy’s apartment in San Juan City ahead of the July 13 raid, which led to Dy and Na’s recapture.
Nineteen CIDG officers led by Espino were dismissed after they were accused by two witnesses of stealing P15 million to P20 million and 80 kilos of shabu from the house of Dy.
“When we were investigating and we were about to raid that 311 [apartment number], they really had an NBI protector in that town. Why, because the one who used to live there was a pastor and a lot of people would always knock on his door asking for alms. When Jackson transferred, other people still rang the doorbell,” he told reporters.
When a guard opened the door, a man alighted from his car, showed his NBI ID, and scolded the guard for allowing visitors to enter so easily, he said. “So the guard thought that those living there were big-time,” he added.
“They can ask that guard because he’s still there and he’s one of the witnesses from whom we got one of the intelligence reports,” Espino said.
He denied the charge that he and his men took millions of pesos and shabu during the raid, saying the operation against the Chinese couple and Li was a “focused police operation.”
He also took exception to De Lima’s statement that he violated the terms of the Witness Protection Program by disclosing the identities of the witnesses.
“First, I did not violate the Witness Protection Program because Section 7 is only applicable to those personnel who processed the application. As a [member of the] PNP, we are not privy to that application of their witnesses. So, I did not violate any provision of the Witness Protection Program,” he said.
Second, Espino said he sought to defend himself and his men when De Lima revealed that one of the witnesses had introduced himself as a police officer.
“So we conducted our own internal investigation and it turned out that [the witness] is not a police officer and not a member of the police operation. Which means what the witnesses will say are just lies,” he said.
In a separate news release issued by his office, Espino said the arrest of Li Tian Hua could have been the culmination of his team’s painstaking surveillance operation, but with the arrest of the Chinese couple, Li was moving to protect his interests.
“The entire drug syndicate is now on the offensive,” he said.
“Their focus now is to destroy and discredit the police unit and their operatives. They can easily do it as they have entrenched connections among law enforcers, prosecutors, judges and even the media,” Espino said.
He said the witnesses against his police team were “obviously lying.”
Espino described the allegations against them as “concocted fairy tales about police corruption, riding high on antipolice sentiment due to recent negatives reports about some members of the Philippine National Police.”
The media, he said, were “easy prey” for manipulation, “since it always want something sensational, and what can be more sensational than policemen accused of pocketing huge volume of shabu and millions of pesos?”
“After the false exposé, I and my men were placed in the ‘freezer’ and were stopped from monitoring the drug production, drug distribution and money laundering activities of Li Tian Hua,” he said.
Bigger than Dy
Espino said Li was believed to be “higher in rank than Dy and Na and has access to bigger resources and connections from top officials.”
“We were almost there to bust the biggest drug syndicate in the country, but the drug lords are now laughing at us and taking advantage of the inactivity of the AOCD,” he said.
Getting out of hand
On Espino’s latest attack against the NBI, De Lima said the situation was “getting out of hand” as she expressed dismay “why they are resorting to this.”
The justice secretary said Espino should just allow the NBI to do its “mandate,” and conduct and complete its investigation of recent “high-profile and sensitive” cases that included Li’s case.
“Please don’t throw mud at them (NBI) now because they have very important cases to investigate,” De Lima said.
She reminded reporters that she earlier said that there would be attempts to sully the image of the NBI after its investigation of Janet Lim-Napoles was revealed in the media. The NBI said Napoles allegedly misused P10 billion in pork barrel of lawmakers by channeling the funds to bogus NGOs and ghost projects.
De Lima expressed hope at the time that the attacks against the NBI were not a strategy to destroy its credibility.
The justice secretary maintained that when she raised allegations of police involvement in the killing of Cadavero and Panogalinga on July 15, she was not accusing the entire organization but certain policemen who were involved.
“But what seems to be happening now is that the NBI is being targeted. Why?” De Lima asked.
She asked Espino where he got his information when he said that one of the two NBI witnesses had claimed he was a policeman.
“I never said anything of that sort. Neither did the witnesses say anything of that sort. The witness knew who he was and I knew exactly who he was but not a policeman,” De Lima said.
Rojas, who spoke to reporters after meeting with De Lima, also dared Espino to name the NBI agents protecting Li so that he could act on it.
“This is the first time that the CIDG has accused the NBI of such a serious charge, so we also want to know the truth. If indeed, there are NBI agents acting as protector, we will not hesitate to act on this immediately,” Rojas said.
Interior Secretary Roxas said the feud between the NBI and the CIDG might have resulted from a simple misunderstanding.
“I think it was only a misunderstanding of the statements that got blown out of proportion, and [some people] couldn’t control themselves [from speaking out],” he told reporters in a briefing.
“The point is the CIDG said they had been investigating Jackson Dy… so I ordered CIDG director Frank Uyami to prepare a report to prove that there was in fact a surveillance operation against Jackson Dy for three weeks, and that they were coordinating with other agencies as they did so,” he said.
He noted that the CIDG team had been insistent that the operation against Dy was not connected to the deaths of Cadavero and Panogalinga.
But when pressed later on to elaborate on the NBI-CIDG feud, Roxas said: “I don’t see any feud. I don’t feel any feud. Maybe it’s only the media that want to see a fight. For me, each agency is only doing its duty. Whoever needs to assume responsibility must do so. Whoever did wrong must be made answerable.”
“We will not spare anyone. We will only follow what’s right and proper. Our policy is very clear,” he said.—With a report from Nancy C. Carvajal
Originally posted at 9:01 p.m | July 25, 2013