P6.7B shabu haul: A game of the generals

The plot thickens as the characters tell contradictory versions of what happened and probers become suspicious that this was being done on purpose to bungle the single biggest shabu haul in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

BGen. Narciso Domingo, who has been relieved as director of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (PDEG), said during an inquiry last week at the House of Representatives that a drug syndicate, which had lost more than P7 billion worth of shabu in a buy-bust on Oct. 8 last year, has “succeeded in redirecting the course of the investigation,” which now targets the policemen responsible for the seizure of 1.032 tons of shabu in Manila.

Domingo supervised the drug operation in Sta. Cruz, Manila that led to the seizure of 990 kilograms of shabu with an estimated value of P6.7 billion. Days later, 42 kg more of shabu that were allegedly stashed by operatives were left in a car parked in Camp Crame.

Domingo is so far the highest-ranked PNP official that the fact-finding Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) 990 has found liable for an alleged cover-up of irregularities committed by the anti-drug operatives. Would names of higher officers come up as the probe progresses?

The House probe lasted seven hours but too many questions still remain unanswered. The PDEG officers gave numerous contradicting versions of what happened. Others invoked their right against self-incrimination. It became even more complicated when screenshots from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage were shown, disputing many of the statements of the police officers.

It would appear that the volume of shabu stolen from a lending firm’s office in Sta. Cruz is much more than the 42 kg that were “returned.” At least three policemen were seen loading 19 pieces of luggage into the trunk of a car parked outside the building. The 42 kg “returned” were in two pieces of luggage. It’s still a mystery where the 17 remaining bags are.

The CCTV showed three men, identified as SMS. Jerrywin Rebosora, MSgt. Lorenzo Catarata and another officer, loading the bags into the car owned by Catarata. Rebosora and Catarata claimed it was not them. Catarata denied owning the car. But Col. Roland Portera said Rebosora had admitted keeping 30 kg of shabu to be given as reward to the informant and had identified the car as that of Catarata.

Was it really Rebosora and Catarata who loaded the 19 bags of shabu into the car? Who ordered them to keep it there? The stash was purportedly taken to a nearby house occupied by another operative who had resigned following the incident.

Appearing at the House inquiry on April 26, Domingo said the investigation should instead center on the participation of LtCol. Glenn Gonzales and LtCol. Arnulfo Ibañez, who had been relieved as officer in charge of the PDEG-National Capital Region, to find out how high up in the PNP is the involvement in illegal drug operations.

Dapat tingnan kung sino ang mga boss ni Colonel Gonzales at Colonel Ibañez kung gusto natin malaman kung sino sa PNP pa ang involved sa drugs. Sa kanila dapat ang focus ng imbestigasyon,” Domingo said.

He described Gonzales as a self-confessed whistle blower whose presence in the Sta. Cruz raid was questionable because he had been assigned to the Quezon City Police District. Ibañez, Domingo said, wanted to cover up for MSgt. Rodolfo Mayo, a PDEG intelligence officer who has been detained following his identification as the owner of Wealth and Personal Development (WPD) Lending on Jose Abad Santos Avenue in Sta. Cruz, Manila where the 1.032 tons of shabu were seized on Oct. 8.

Domingo claimed that Gonzales caused the discovery of the drugs in Mayo’s lending firm and that Ibañez pushed for a follow-up operation in Pasig, using Mayo as an informant. The target of the Pasig raid in the evening of Oct. 8 is supposedly a warehouse owned by Gonzales where they expected to seize a larger volume of shabu.

“It dawned on me na dahil inilaglag ni Gonzales si Mayo na bata ni Ibañez, gusting gumanti ni Ibañez na ituro din ‘yung bodega ni Gonzales bilang ganti,” Domingo said at the hearing of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs.

Another major puzzle that probers could not put together involves Mayo’s arrest. Was he arrested in Bambang at around noon on Oct. 8? Or was he caught in a chase that ended on Quezon Bridge in Quiapo at 2:30 a.m. the next day? The CCTV showed him in a car with Sosongco from past 1 p.m. on Oct. 8 until 7:45 p.m. when his handcuffs were removed and he supposedly went to join an operation in Pasig City, which turned out to be the serving of an arrest warrant on a certain Juden Francisco with Mayo as arresting officer.

Domingo said Ibañez made him believe that the Pasig operation would yield a much bigger shabu haul, but then PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin had it canceled at the 11th hour “dahil baka raw patayin ni Ibañez si Mayo.” At one point, Domingo described Mayo as “bata ni (protégé of) Ibañez.”

Reps Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Romeo Acop of Antipolo City, chairman and vice chairman of the House committee, respectively, could not hide their disgust over Domingo’s attempt to divert the focus of the investigation from procedural and technical lapses and judgment calls in the Oct. 8 drug operation. They also took turns warning Domingo and other police officers involved in the operation about the consequences of not telling the truth in their testimonies.

Apart from Domingo, the SITG named two colonels, three lieutenant colonels, one major and five lieutenants to have criminal and administrative liability over the stolen 42 kg of shabu from the Sta. Cruz raid. The rest were noncommissioned officers: two chief master sergeants, two senior master sergeants, five master sergeants, three staff sergeants, four corporals, and 21 patrolmen and women.

Capt. Jonathan Sosongco, team leader in the Sta. Cruz operation, asserted that Ney Atadero was arrested in a buy-bust at the WPD lending office around 4:45 p.m. on Oct. 8. Upon his arrest, he said Atadero pointed to Mayo as his superior. Mayo was subsequently arrested in a follow-up operation on Quezon Bridge in Quiapo at 2:30 a.m. the next day.

The CCTV footage did now show a buy-bust. Instead, Atadero was seen moving around in the presence of the operatives, who did not have the required body cameras during the operation.

Sosongco’s boss, Calabarzon DEG Special Operations Unit (SOU) chief Col. Julian Olonan, gave a different version. Olonan said Sosongco telephoned him around noon and told him that he had arrested Mayo in Bambang with kilograms of shabu in his possession, and then they would proceed to the WPD office for follow-up operations.

The congressmen noted several contradictions and inconsistencies between the CCTV footage and the affidavits of Sosongco and the other operatives. The operatives themselves gave conflicting statements, prompting Barbers and Acop to comment that they could no longer determine who were telling the truth and who were lying. Who are covering up for whom?

Domingo said public discussion of the timeline of the Oct. 8 to 9 operations would jeopardize the case that could lead to its dismissal and Mayo’s release. But Barbers and Acop said if the case would end up being dismissed, it must be because the policemen bungled it.

More than six months have passed and the people involved are coming out with more conflicting statements about what happened. When can we see an end to this? Would more generals get embroiled in this case? Let’s wait and see.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.