DOJ reopens probe of Pampanga drug recycling case

Lian Buan
(UPDATED) A Senate exposé implicating retiring PNP chief Oscar Albayalde prompts Guevarra not just to expedite the review of the case junked in 2017, but to reopen it altogether

DRUG RECYCLING. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra sits beside former CIDG chief Benjamin Magalong during a Senate investigation October 1, 2019, on the alleged recycling of drugs by a team of Pampanga policemen. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Sunday, October 6, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will reopen the drug case against Pampanga policemen involved in the alleged recycling of confiscated drugs that had been dismissed in 2017.

This was prompted by a sensational exposé at the Senate where retiring police chief General Oscar Albayalde is accused of intervening in the internal administrative process of the Pampanga police, supposedly to spare the cops from being sacked. 

“In the light of new evidence unfolding, and in the interest of justice, the DOJ will reopen the case and will create a new panel of state prosecutors to conduct the reinvestigation,” Guevarra told reporters in a message on Sunday.

Guevarra added: “Both sides will be given ample opportunity to present additional evidence.”

In a department order released on Monday, October 7, it listed the following as making up the panel:

  1. Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Alexander Suarez
  2. Assistant State Prosecutor Josie Christina Dugay
  3. Assistant State Prosecutor Gino Paulo Santiago

The panel is “hereby directed to immediately conduct the necessary hearings and resolve the case within 30 days.”

What happened before

In November 2013, a team of Pampanga cops conducted a buy-bust in Mexico, Pampanga, targeting a drug suspect named Johnson Lee. They seized 36.68 kilograms of shabu.

Irregularities were observed, such as the delay in the inventory of drugs, and the absence of barangay officials, media men, and DOJ representatives in the inventory. Albayalde was then the acting police chief of Pampanga. 

Intelligence information reached Camp Crame that Pampanga cops supposedly started buying their own SUVs, prompting an investigation by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) led by then retired general Benjamin Magalong.

The police raiding team was said to have seized 200 kilograms of shabu, but only declared 38 kilograms, which Magalong described to be the drug recycling modus.

In March 2014, complaints of violations of Sections 27 (misappropriation), 29 (planting), and 32 (custody and disposition) of the Dangerous Drugs Act were filed against the 13 cops in the buy-bust team.

“All were dismissed,” Guevarra said. 

PNP Drug Enforcement Group chief Brigadier General Albert Ferro told the Senate the DOJ dismissed the criminal drugs cases sometime in June 2017.

Following DOJ rules, the case went on automatic review, which shall be resolved by the justice secretary.

Guevarra attended the Senate hearings, where he promised that a reinvestigation could be done. He’s now making good on that promise, even involving a panel of prosecutors instead of just his office.

Is Albayalde included?

In March 2014, Albayalde was sacked as Pampanga police chief over the controversial buy-bust operation. He went on to become the the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

In March 2016, the administrative sanction befell the policemen. They were fired, but they appealed the decision. Later, the sanction was downgraded to demotion, in what senators believe to have been “a grand cover-up.”

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino, then the regional director of Pampanga police, told senators that Albayalde had called him not to implement the dismissal order.

Albayalde said he was merely asking for the status of the dismissal order.

Albayalde had said he was willing to be a witness in the DOJ reinvestigation if called.

Guevarra did not respond when asked if Albayalde will be summoned. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.