Pacquiao surrenders mayor to drug raiders
COTABATO CITY—A town mayor in Sarangani province wanted by antinarcotics agents had been surrendered by his biggest political ally, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, just hours after his house was raided and yielded at least P5 million in drugs, high-powered guns and explosives.
Mayor Aniceto “Jojo” Lopez, of Maasim town, was turned over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) by Pacquiao past noon on Friday, according to Aaron Aquino, PDEA director.
“The senator turned over the mayor to us,” said Aquino in a phone interview.
PDEA officials, led by Aquino, waited in Pacquiao’s mansion in General Santos City where Pacquiao arranged for the surrender of the mayor.
When the mayor saw Pacquiao, he quickly denied involvement in the drug trade, according to Aquino.
The surrender of Lopez to Pacquiao came just hours after PDEA agents seized drugs, firearms and explosives at Lopez’s house in Barangay Lumasal in Maasim during a raid.
PDEA operatives also seized a “green book” containing drug transactions.
Lopez was not around during the raid on what PDEA agents said was a “shabu” lab in his house.
Authorities said they believed Lopez, who had gone into hiding, may have been tipped off about the raid conducted around 3 a.m.
Gil Castro, PDEA Central Mindanao director, said PDEA and other law enforcement agencies had information that Lopez was a supporter of the previously unheard of Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines, another homegrown terror group allied with Abu Sayyaf and linked to Islamic State.
According to Castro, Pacquiao, who hails from Sarangani, had called the mayor by phone and “urged him to peacefully surrender.”
Pacquiao, Castro added, appealed to Lopez to face the charges against him in court rather than remain a fugitive.
Castro couldn’t say when the senator called up the mayor.
But Pacquiao said it was the mayor who called him up.
“When he called up, I advised him to surrender. He should face whatever case will be filed against him,” Pacquiao said in a statement on Friday.
Pacquiao said he advised Lopez to surrender to authorities so as not to aggravate his case upon learning of the incident.
But he denied negotiating for Lopez’s surrender. “Why will I negotiate? He sent feelers that he wants to surrender peacefully. I told him that’s better rather than let something bad happen to him,” Pacquiao said.
The senator also reiterated his stand against government officials involved in the illegal drug trade and corruption.
“Once they get embroiled in any illegal activity, they cannot expect help from me. I made it clear from the very start,” he said.
Lopez is now detained at the PDEA office in General Santos City but he was not on the list of supposed narcopoliticians being kept by President Duterte.
Aquino said Lopez was on the PDEA list.
Pacquiao may have saved Lopez from suffering the same fate as two other mayors that Mr. Duterte named on his famous list.
Two of them—Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera town, Leyte, and Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City—were killed in police operations.
Espinosa was killed during a raid on the jail facility where he had been detained on suspicion of involvement in drugs. Parojinog, his wife and other relatives, were killed during a police raid on their house in Ozamiz.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.