Sotto irked by Panelo’s remarks on Senate ‘ninja cops’ probe

Published October 5, 2019, 2:16 PM

by Rica Arevalo

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III slammed on Saturday Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo for insinuating that politics was involved in the Upper Chamber’s probe on so-called “ninja cops” tagged in illegal drug recycling.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III (OPS / SENATE / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III (OPS / SENATE / MANILA BULLETIN)

Panelo shared with reporters covering President Duterte’s visit to Russia his misgivings about the Senate’s intention in investigating the involvement of policemen in the alleged “agaw-bato” scheme, or the recycling of seized illegal drugs, in the irregular anti-illegal drug operation in Pampanga in November 2013.

“Ang ayaw ko dito sa (What I don’t like about the) Senate investigation, I have to say my piece: I cannot even understand why parang pinapalabas nila ‘yong administrasyon eh (they are making it appear that the administration is) failing in the drug [war],” he said.

“Basta nagkakaroon ng kulay politika ito (I think it’s becoming political). Supposedly nag-umpisa ‘yan sa (that only started with) good behavior allowance time [issue] lang tapos napunta na kung saan-saan (then it went all over the place). Napunta na sa (Now, they’re talking about the) drug war,” he added.

But the presidential spokesman’s remarks did not sit well with Sotto, who has repeatedly justified the hearings being led by Senator Richard Gordon.

“Drug war? It was an issue in the previous admin[istration]. Recycling of drugs using NBP (New Bilibid Prison) contacts. What’s his problem?” the Senate leader said when sought by the Manila Bulletin for comment.

Sotto said the Senate’s investigation had nothing to do with the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drug, despite Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde now being grilled about the issue.

Albayalde was Pampanga provincial director when the controversial drug bust was conducted about six years ago.

“Of course not. All of d references to the drugs issue were in the past admin[istration],” Sotto, a staunch supporter of President Duterte’s war on drugs, clarified.

The Gordon-led Senate committees on justice and blue ribbon were probing the release of heinous crime convicts through the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law following reports the Bureau of Correction (BuCor) approved the early freedom of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.

Witnesses were then invited to the hearing and bared that aside from the “GCTA for sale” scheme, various money-making schemes are also happening inside the NBP, including illegal drug trade.

The legislative inquiry into the GCTA controversy morphed into the issue on “ninja cops” when former Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director Benjamin Magalong, last September 19, bared that rogue PNP members who recycle confiscated drugs transact with drug lords in the Bilibid.

“In the course of that investigation of the NBP, nabanggit niya na talagang nangyayari ‘yan (Magalong mentioned that it is really happening), and that even happened sometime in 2013, 2014, isang malaking recycling na naimbestigahan namin (they investigated a huge drug recycling scheme),” Sotto explained to reporters last October 2.

“That’s the start. Hindi ‘yan out of the blue na (It was not out of the blue, that) Mayor Magalong plucked it out of thin air. Na bigla na lang na after six years ay tinitira niya ‘yong mga involved na tao (That suddenly after six years, he was attacking the people involved). Hindi, hindi ganoon yon, nagkakamali sila (No, that is not how it went, they are mistaken),” he stressed, apparently addressing Albayalde who earlier claimed that Magalong’s testimonies involved a “personal gripe” against him.

The Senate committees are expected to come up with its reports on the ninja cop issue next week, said Gordon.