Sara Duterte aide also probed; drug raid suspects say PDEA let her go
DAVAO CITY, Davao del Sur, Philippines — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has included Jefry Tupas, the former Davao City information officer, among those being investigated in relation to a recent drug raid on a beach resort in Mabini town, Davao de Oro province.
Aileen Lovitos, PDEA regional director, on Wednesday said the agency had started investigating Tupas, whose name was not mentioned in its report but was present during the raid, according to several of those who were arrested.
Lovitos also said her office also started an internal investigation of the alleged cover-up of some personalities during the drug raid on Saturday that netted 17 suspects and P1.5 million worth of illegal drugs.
A day after the drug bust, Mayor Sara Duterte terminated Tupas as she offered to resign.
Tupas, 43, was a correspondent for the Inquirer from 2003 to 2015 before serving as the mayor’s chief information officer.
“(The agency has started the) inquiry to shed light on what happened during the operation,” Lovitos said at a virtual press conference. She did not elaborate.
It was unclear from Lovitos’ statement whether they considered Tupas as a suspect or a person of interest. The PDEA official could not be reached for further comments.
‘I’m staff of Inday Sara’
Several of those arrested and detained questioned why Tupas was not taken into custody since she was with them during the raid, the local online news outlet Newsline Philippines reported on Tuesday night.
They belied her statement that she dropped by at the resort, a two-hour drive from Davao City, only for dinner and had already left when authorities swooped in.
“During the raid, we were instructed to lay flat on the ground. Then, they started looking for Jef Tupas,” said one of those arrested who was interviewed by Newsline.
Another detainee said she saw Tupas approach the police during the raid and introduced herself as an employee of the local government of Davao City.
“I was near Jefry Tupas when the arrest happened. She (Tupas) said, ‘Sir, I am a staff of Inday Sara. What is happening here, Sir?’” the detainee told Newsline.
The video interview did not show the faces of the detainees who were being held at the National Bureau of Investigation regional office in Davao City.
The raiding team, which included PDEA and NBI agents, and the local police, reportedly called out the names of Tupas, her boyfriend Jed Wong and several others.
The police reportedly told the other people at the resort not to worry because their “main targets” were the people whose names were being called out and that they were considered mere “visitors” of the resort.
Most of them were told to wait in a field while another group of people was brought to a room.
The detainees also claimed that the illegal drugs found in the room where Tupas allegedly stayed were being inventoried and photographed near them.
They were referring to a photograph released by the PDEA showing the suspects seated in a semicircle with the captured illegal substances laid out in front of them.
This made it appear that these were seized from the detainees.
They claimed they had photos showing Tupas was present before the raid, but they were unable to take any more pictures and videos of her presence during the raid.
“We did not expect that they were already allowed to escape,” a detainee said, referring to Tupas and other people. They questioned why only 17 of them were arrested when there were about 50 people, including Tupas and her boyfriend, at the resort during the raid.
Tupas did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Inquirer through text messages and phone calls.
Lovitos said the subject of Saturday’s drug operation had been identified and that all the facts regarding the raid were presented in a press release that the office issued on the following day.
In an interview with ANC on Wednesday, she said the PDEA will conduct its own investigation of the “speculations they (detainees) are making.”
But Lovitos could not categorically confirm or deny the presence of Tupas during the raid. PDEA “cannot comment on that,” she said, deferring to the statement of Tupas.
She said they had been monitoring all the 17 people they had arrested.
“These drug personalities are really in our list and, of course, together with other law enforcement agencies, they have been our targets for quite some time already,” she said.
She said the raid followed a buy-bust operation whose target was Revsan Ethelbert Papay Elizalde, 33, who was arrested for selling one plastic sachet containing a violet capsule suspected to be party drug worth P2,000, and one large vacuum-sealed plastic containing marijuana worth P6,000 to an undercover PDEA agent.
Lovitos said that party drugs, particularly ecstasy, which were traced to Germany, have been proliferating in the Davao region.
She said a PDEA operation in February yielded 300 ecstasy tablets. —WITH A REPORT FROM DEXTER CABALZA