Gordon says Panelo acting as Albayalde ‘counsel’
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon on Wednesday chided presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for acting as “de facto counsel” and spokesperson for former Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde, who stepped down on Monday after he was accused by retired police officials of protecting police officers from prosecution for selling confiscated illegal drugs.
Gordon, chair of the blue ribbon and justice committees that investigated the irregularity, said Panelo’s claim that the testimony of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong during the hearings was just “hearsay” was a “disrespect” for the Senate.
Magalong investigated the Nov. 29, 2013, drug sting operation as head of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
He testified that Albayalde, who headed the Pampanga police office when the antidrug operation was conducted, blocked the dismissal from the service of the police officers accused of pilfering and selling the bulk of the “shabu” (crystal meth) seized during the operation.
“The statement by Magalong … was corroborated by other witnesses to show that there was really a case. I don’t know why suddenly [Panelo] engaged as being the spokesman of Albayalde,” Gordon told reporters over the phone.
“He should not be spokesman of Albayalde. He should be spokesman of the President,” Gordon said. “He should respect the Senate investigation. That is being disrespectful because we are still in the process of investigation.”
Gordon added: “Maybe he should have appeared as counsel of Albayalde. But to me, he is challenging the blue ribbon investigation of a very, very important case that the public has a tremendous stake in.”
Asked if Panelo’s remarks reflected the Preisen’s sentiments, Gordon replied: “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s very clear that the statements of the President belie the statements of Panelo.
“It’s a fact that the President said, ‘I don’t want to stumble again in appointing [a new PNP chief].’ That was a very clear shot across the bow of Albayalde,” Gordon said.
There was no immediate comment from Panelo on Wednesday.
Sen. Bong Go, the President’s former longtime aide, said that it was Mr. Duterte himself who told Albayalde, through Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, to go on terminal leave before his retirement on Nov. 8.
Besides Magalong and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino, retired Brig. Gen. Rudy Lacadin, Magalong’s deputy in the CIDG, also gave damaging testimony, disclosing that Albayalde had admitted to him that he “got only a little” from the Pampanga drug haul.
Gordon said the Senate had already moved to “perpetuate” the testimony of three Pampanga policemen after Magalong warned that Maj. Rodney Baloyo and the 12 other policemen accused of selling the seized shabu could end up dead.
He said he had asked Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to secure the sworn statements of Staff Sergeants Jerome Bugarin, Marlon de la Cruz and Jackson Mariano and provide them protection.
The three officers, who were assigned to the Mexico town police office, testified in the Senate hearings that they turned over suspected Korean drug lord Johnson Lee to Baloyo and his men.
They said Lee had sought their help moments after Baloyo’s group raided his house, where they seized 200 kilograms of shabu, 160 kg which they allegedly sold back to the black market.
“The policemen referred to by Magalong really need some protection. These witnesses need protection. I want their testimonies perpetuated just in case something happens to them,” Gordon said.
“This means that they will go to the court and they will execute their affidavit there. If something happens, but hopefully not, those will be admissible in court,” he added.
As for Baloyo and the others, Gordon said they were not considering the possibility of recommending state protection for them.
New DOJ probe
Except for Baloyo, the accused officers appeared at the start of a new investigation of the 2013 drug raid by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday.
The CIDG, however, was not ready with evidence and asked for more time. The DOJ prosecutors gave the CIDG five more days, or until Oct. 21, to complete its case.
Baloyo’s coaccused who appeared at the proceedings were former Senior Insp. Joven de Guzman, former SPO1s Jules Maniago, Ronald Santos, Donald Roque, Rommel Vital, Alcindor Tinio, Dante Dizon and Eligio Valeroso, former SPO3s Dindo Dizon, Gilbert de Vera and Romeo Guerrero, and former SPO2 Anthony Lacsamana.
After the hearing, the CIDG lawyer, Lt. Col. Joseph Orsos, told reporters that the allegations that the officers took bribes and did not account for the bulk of the seized shabu were only “rumors” so far.
He said the police needed the transcript of the recent Senate hearing as evidence, as some of the witnesses had changed their original testimony.
“Those (the witnesses’ testimony) are very crucial because it will complete the picture. So far the picture is not complete. In fact, as to the existence of bribe, existence of supposed unaccounted shabu, those evidence only exist as of now [as] rumors or estimation,” Orsos said.
‘No direct evidence’
“There is no direct evidence that there was bribe or there was really unaccounted shabu. We are still looking into that,” he said.
The CIDG had accused the 13 officers of misappropriating confiscated drugs, planting evidence and violating the rules on the custody and disposition of seized drugs, but the DOJ dismissed the complaint for insufficient evidence.
Orsos said the original DOJ panel of prosecutors could only have been expected to dismiss the complaint because the existence of the alleged drug lord from whom the shabu had been seized, Johnson Lee, was not even established.
“So we have to pick up the pieces of what happened before and do what is right,” Orsos said.
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