10 cops probed for drug ‘cover-up’ told to go on leave
MANILA, Philippines – Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos called on at least 10 police officers, including top officials of the Philippine National Police, to go on leave as the National Police Commission (Napolcom) investigates an alleged attempt to cover up the involvement of some law enforcers in the drug trade, particularly in connection with the seizure of almost a ton of crystal meth or “shabu” on Oct. 8 last year.
But while the PNP supported Abalos’ directive, Brig. Gen. Narciso Domingo, the head of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (DEG) and one of the 10 officials tagged by the secretary, denied any cover-up and maintained that his unit was only employing “tactical moves” to catch other big-time drug dealers.
At a press conference on Monday night, Abalos showed security camera footage showing some PNP officers at a company office in Sta. Cruz, Manila, where the drugs were found. Antidrug agents then reported the discovery of some 990 kilos of shabu worth P6.7 billion inside the office of Wealth and Personal Development Lending Inc. (WPDLI), a company said to be owned by Master Sgt. Rodolfo Mayo Jr., an intelligence officer of the DEG Special Operations Unit.
But Abalos noted that based on the video clip, the PNP already had Mayo in custody even before the operation, contrary to a DEG report that he was arrested the next day, Oct. 9, in a hot pursuit operation on Quezon Bridge in Manila’s Quiapo district.
Abalos also found it puzzling that Mayo was listed as an arresting officer in a different drug operation on the day of the WPDLI raid, when he was supposedly already caught in an earlier buy-bust operation.
“The… video shows a different scenario as compared with the narration of facts as stated in the reports submitted by the PNP, including the documents attached to the case filed in court, and the testimonies given by some PNP officers during the congressional hearings in March,” Abalos said. “It shows that there is indeed a massive attempt to cover up the arrest of [Mayo].”
The police officials seen in the footage were identified as the following: Lt. Gen. Benjamin Santos Jr., who was then the deputy chief for operations (TDCO), the third-highest official in the PNP; Brig. Gen. Narciso Domingo, director of the PNP DEG; Col. Julian Olonan, chief of DEG Special Operations Unit (SOU) Region 4A; Lt. Col. Arnulfo Ibañez, officer in charge of DEG SOU – National Capital Region (NCR);
Lt. Col. Glenn Gonzales of Quezon City Police District; Lt. Col. Harry Lorenzo, Manila Police District, Moriones station commander; Maj. Michael Angelo Salmingo, deputy of DEG SOU NCR; Capt. Randolph Piñon, chief of DEG SOU 4A Intelligence Section; Capt. Jonathan Sosongco, head of the DEG SOU 4A arresting team; and Lt. Ashrap Amerol, intelligence officer of DEG Intelligence and Foreign Liaison Division.
Also caught in the video entering the WPDLI office were DEG officers MSgt. Lorenzo Catarata, SMSgt. Jerrywin Rebosora, SSgt. Arnold Tibay and Pat. Peter Gular.
On Feb. 22, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. named Maj. Gen. Jonnel Estomo as the new TDCO, replacing Santos, who was reassigned to the Office of the Chief PNP as part of a “regular revamp.”
“I am giving them within this week to file their leave of absence pending investigation. If they won’t, I have no choice but to order for their preventive suspension,” said Abalos, who sits as Napolcom chair.
In a statement on Tuesday, the PNP said it was supporting Abalos’ call, saying going on leave would be “the most prudent thing to do… to prevent them from influencing the investigation at any stage.”
Domingo said they would comply but vouched for team during a press conference on Tuesday, saying: “May I express my dismay that this is really unfair. We just did our mandate and just did our fight against the illegal drugs trade.”
“It is us who have caught this biggest shabu haul in the history of the PNP, and now we are accused of being in cahoots with the suspects we caught,” Domingo added. “Our conscience is clear, we assure you there is no attempt to cover up here.”
According to Domingo, the DEG’s use of Mayo was part of their “tactical move” to catch bigger personalities in the drug trade, arguing that Mayo could not possibly handle an operation involving 990 kilos of shabu all by himself.
He said Azurin and Santos had approved his proposal to use Mayo to locate the main source of his drugs, and that Mayo even assured him that he could pinpoint another warehouse with much much bigger stocks of illegal drugs.
“The truth here is there is someone who double-crossed Mayo which led to his arrest. For Mayo, he wants to get even at the one who betrayed him. Unfortunately, when Ibañez and Mayo left, somebody sent a message to the Chief PNP that Mayo might get killed. [Azurin] told me to stop and secure Mayo because he might be killed,” Domingo explained.
‘Stolen’ 42 kilos
According to Domingo, they reviewed the footage even before it was presented by Abalos to the public where they saw some of their men stealing some of the drug haul.
He said he had been ordered not to get involved in the probe since it was focusing on his men.
“Had I not been stopped to investigate, we might have identified or charged others who were involved in the 990 kilograms of shabu. If we are indeed in cahoots with the suspects, we should not have reported those whom we caught in the CCTV footage. We should have kept silent,” he added.
Days after the Oct. 8, 2022, drug operation, the PNP discovered that some DEG officers took 42 kilos of shabu before an inventory of 990 kilos of shabu was put on record. The incident was captured in the footage, which Domingo said he reported to Azurin.
The stolen 42 kilos of shabu were later found on Oct. 15 in a car abandoned along Boni Serrano Avenue in San Juan City, near Camp Crame.