Duterte: NBI sole agency to probe PNP-PDEA clash
President Duterte has designated the National Bureau of Investigation as the sole agency that would look into the gunfight between members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), shutting down their joint probe to “ensure impartiality.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Friday said it was the NBI’s mandate to investigate incidents that involve the uniformed services so that the probe would be nonpartisan.
The President ordered the joint board of inquiry created by the PNP and PDEA to “discontinue” its investigation, Roque said.
“This is to ensure impartiality on the Quezon City shootout incident,” he said.
PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana said the PNP “readily submits to the instructions of the President.”
PDEA spokesperson Derrick Carreon said there was nothing more to say about the President’s order. “That is the directive of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte),” he said.
Carreon added that the House of Representatives and the Senate were “well within their powers” to also conduct their own probes.
NBI spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin said the bureau was ready to comply with the President’s order to lead the investigation. “We are up to the challenge,” he told reporters.
“This is not the first time that the NBI has been assigned to handle cases involving issues with different law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Lavin said NBI Director Eric Distor had assigned the National Capital Region office to lead the inquiry. “The director has considered this a priority case,” he said.
The Wednesday evening shootout has raised many questions about the antidrug operation near Ever Gotesco Mall on busy Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
It remains unclear what had triggered the shootout that killed two police officers, a PDEA agent and a PDEA informant.
Lawmakers criticized PDEA and the PNP for endangering the lives of civilians who could have been caught in the crossfire when antinarcotics agents turned parts of Commonwealth Avenue into a “war zone” during the early evening rush hour.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto called on the Senate to investigate the gunfight and to piece together what had happened.
Recto said that with two former PNP chiefs in the chamber, Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Panfilo Lacson, it would be able to get to the truth.
“People are demanding answers on why a supposedly coordinated operation ended up as a circular firing squad,” Recto said in a statement.
“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.
Dela Rosa on Thursday said his committee on public order and dangerous drugs would open its own investigation of the firefight.
At the House, Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero said the PNP and PDEA had put people’s lives in danger “while [they were] making the superbusy middle of Commonwealth Avenue as their own war zone.”
Romero said the two law enforcement agencies’ statements “raised more questions than answers,” particularly on who was the buyer and who was the seller in what both PDEA and PNP had billed a “buy-bust” operation.“In a buy-bust operation, there’s supposed to be a buyer and a seller. There cannot be two buyers and no seller,” Romero said.
He said Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, classified the sale of illegal drugs as a capital offense punishable by life imprisonment.
“Even in a buy-bust operation, it’s still illegal for uniformed personnel to play the role of a seller … We hope there will be no cover-up in the investigation so the public will know the true and full story,” Romero said.
PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva on Thursday said neither his agency nor the PNP was engaged in a “sell-bust” operation because it was illegal.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, the House dangerous drugs committee chair, said he would begin an inquiry into the shootout next week.
Barbers told the Inquirer that his panel would be summoning key officials of PDEA and the PNP to a hearing.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte on Friday met with local police officials, barangay leaders and officers of the Department of Public Order and Safety and other agencies to raise her concerns about the drug operation.
“First of all I want to know why an operation was conducted in a very public place. Should there be a misstep in the operation as what happened, innocent lives could be at stake,” Belmonte told reporters.
She also questioned the lack of coordination with local officials. While she understood that such operations were confidential, she said that she should be given a heads up so she would know what to expect.
“I think it’s not fair that the city government should be left out,” Belmonte said.
“It seems that there are a lot of protocols that have to be mapped out or guidelines that have to be institutionalized so that when a situation such as this happens again, we will be able to protect civilians, businesses and that emergency situations are not affected,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, DEXTER CABALZA, MARLON RAMOS AND NIKKA G. VALENZUELA
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