Duterte defends Albayalde: 'He has the right to be heard'

MANILA, Philippines – Saying that "all" are equal in the eyes of the law, President Rodrigo Duterte cited the need for due process as Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde faces the "ninja cops" controversy.

Duterte reiterated that he will only decide on Albayalde's fate once Interior Secretary Eduardo Año finishes his probe into the controversy, which casts a shadow on the PNP chief a month before he is set to retire on November 8.

"Secretary Año will study the matter very carefully.... Give me clear proof he was there on the take or was in the trafficking of drugs. But just because he was [police director], tapos may tinawagan siya (then he called someone)...I could not just do it in a knee-jerk [manner]," Duterte said on Sunday, October 6, as he arrived at the Davao International Airport after his second official visit to Russia.

"I have to follow procedural due process and allow him time to answer, the right to be heard. It's given to the criminals, to the kidnappers. It should be given to a general of the Philippine National Police because under the laws we're all equal," Duterte added.

Just before he had left for Russia last Tuesday, October 1, Duterte said it was the "most proper thing" to let Año finish a parallel investigation into the matter, aside from hearings being carried out in the Senate.

Duterte was also asked on Sunday what he thought of Albayalde and if he still has confidence in the top cop. Like in his speech before leaving for Russia, the President said Albayalde would remain as the PNP's leader until there is proof of wrongdoing.

"He is still there, otherwise he would have, you know, I would have told him to just go out. Just give me proof kasi abogado ako eh (because I'm a lawyer)," Duterte said.

Asked who he might consider to replace Albayalde after the PNP chief's retirement, Duterte said he still needs to vet possible candidates.

"Maya-maya madapa na naman tapos ako ang magkaroon ng problema," he said. (Later, someone might commit a mistake and I'll be blamed again.)

Albayalde in hot water: The top cop found himself at odds with his peers when Senate hearings on the Good Conduct Time Allowance law turned to discussions on "ninja cops."

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, former chief of the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, accused Albayalde of intervening in the dismissal of 13 "ninja cops" in 2013.

Aquino had revived the issue of "ninja cops," or cops who recycle confiscated illegal drugs to make money, during the PDEA's 2020 budget hearing in Congress, saying the practice still exists.

The allegation hit close to the heart of the Duterte administration's controversial anti-drug campaign, which has left thousands of Filipinos dead. Human rights groups put the death toll at around 27,000, including those killed in and outside police operations. (READ: 'Spectacle of a grand cover-up': Senate hearing bares how 'ninja cops' remain in service)

Albayalde denied the accusations. He also defended the PNP before lawmakers, saying: "We have papers here that should show that we're dead serious in the campaign against illegal drugs and scalawags in uniform.... Why are we being blamed now?"

Prior to Senate hearings, Albayalde, Aquino, and Magalong had met separately with Duterte to discuss the issue.

Albayalde assured the President that a "ninja cops syndicate" had been dismantled even before his stint as PNP chief and that the police force continues to cleanse its ranks of corrupt cops. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

image