MANILA. Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, December 2, admitted he was the one who asked Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to reinstate a police official accused of coddling drug lords.
Duterte made the statement at the graduation ceremony of the Highway Patrol Group motorcycle riding course in Davao City on Friday, December 2 where he denied allegations that it was Special Assistant to the President Bong Go who made the request to Dela Rosa on behalf of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, sacked chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 (CIDG 8).
"I'd like to make it public. Kaya sabi ko, as it is kayo diyan. Doon ko nalaman si [Asher] Dolina malinis. Si Marcos may tama. Pero 'wag mong galawin kasi gusto kong tingnan. Kung biglain mo, napuputol yung nagbibuild up na kaso…..So hindi totoo na si Bong Go tumawag," he said. Chief Superintendent Dolina was former Eastern Visayas police regional director who was named by alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa as having received checks from him worth at least P3 million.
(I'd like to make it public. That's why I said, you remain there as it is. That's where I learned that Dolina is clean. Marcos is not. But don't move them because I want to see. If you do that suddenly, the case build up would be disrupted….So it's not true that Bong Go was the one who called.)
'I gave the order'
The President did not categorically say, in his speech if he was the one who personally called up Dela Rosa or he gave his orders through another official.
He merely joked that someone should be "blamed" for making the call to Dela Rosa to reinstate Marcos and pointed to Interior Undersecretary Catalino Cuy, a retired police general, who was in the audience.
When sought for clarification after his speech, Duterte confirmed in a phone interview with CNN Philippines that he was the who gave the order to Dela Rosa.
"Ganito 'yan: si Bong inorderan ko, call. By the time pinasa niya, ang sumagot si Dela Rosa. Sabi ko, 'Do not remove the guy because kasali 'yan sa – I am doing an investigative job.' Natapos na 'yun, si Dolina was cleared. Marcos, positive. Kasi I was keeping track of his movements. Alisin mo ako doon, mawala bigla ang…. mawala lahat. Hindi ko masundan," he said.
(It's like this: I ordered Bong, call [Dela Rosa]. By the time he passed me the phone, Dela Rosa answered. I said, 'Do not remove the guy because he's involved – I am going an investigative job.' That was done, Dolina was cleared. Marcos, positive. Because I was keeping track of his movements. If you take him out, then...everything will disappear. I can't follow up.)
When asked, he said Marcos "has to face the charges....Let him maintain the right to be heard."
Dela Rosa earlier admitted that he had relieved but reinstated Marcos as CIDG 8 chief because of a request from a "higher up," but did not name him.
Marcos' reinstatement came weeks before November 5, when the controversial officer led a team that served a search warrant in jail to alleged drug lord protector Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr, who was eventually shot dead.
In an interview on ANC's Headstart with Karen Davila on Tuesday, November 29, Dela Rosa disclosed that he had relieved Marcos of his post. But he said he reinstated him, despite reports he was on the payroll of drug lords, because he was asked to do so by someone who gave him a call.
Asked by Davila if the call was made by someone higher in rank, Dela Rosa said yes. “Hindi ko sasabihin kung sino… doon sa taas.” (I won't say who called me. Higher-ups.)
"Was it the President?" Davila asked.
The PNP chief let out a nervous laugh.
A member of his Cabinet?
He laughed again, saying: “Mas mataas sa akin. Sino ba mas mataas sa akin? Eh 'di doon sa taas.” (Higher than me. Who else is higher than me, anyway?)
On Thursday, Dela Rosa modified his description of the person who called him up by saying he was his "kumpare" or friend. Duterte, however, is his ninong or wedding sponsor.
Up to Friday, Dela Rosa refused to heed calls for him to identify the person who made the call. He instead dared De Lima to name her source. (READ: Dela Rosa: Name your source and I'll reveal 'kumpare')
Marcos is a controversial figure in the PNP. When he was assigned by Dela Rosa in July, he brought an entire team with him to Region 8. (READ: Espinosa case: Why were Marcos and team moved to CIGD 8?)
No less than Kerwin Espinosa, the jailed son of the former Albuera mayor, testified at the Senate that Marcos had asked for money from his father in exchange for protection. (READ: Kerwin Espinosa: Marcos asked for P3M from dad)
But Duterte attempted to explain why keeping or relieving a police officer hounded by allegations should "not really matter."
"Alam mo si chief PNP, whether or not you are retained there does not really matter. Prerogative ni Bato 'yan e. Maski sabihin nila na kriminal 'yan [police officer], teka muna, let the law take its own [course]. 'Wag tanggalin, nagpoprobe pa kami dito kung totoo o hindi," he said.
(You know the PNP chief, whether or not you are retained there does not really matter. That's the prerogative of Bato. Even if they say that he's [the police officer is] a criminal, wait a minute, let the law take its own course. Don't remove him, there's still on ongoing probe on whether it is [the allegation is] true or not.)
"So ganoon pati, second, is low morale ang tao. 'Yung ibang police, di pa nila nalaman na we're doing investigative work, tapos hindi mo maano so you do that, it will create a ripple in the entire country....We're really building the case," he added.
(Second, the morale of the people is low. Other people don't know that we're doing the investigative work, then you can't [remove them] so you do that, it will create a ripple in the entire country....We're really building the case.)
Duterte clears Dolina
In his speech, the President also cleared Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina, former director of Police Regional Office 8, whom Kerwin Espinosa had accused of receiving protection money from him when the alleged drug lord testified at the Senate hearing into the death of his father, the late Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
"So alam natin even before [Kerwin] Espinosa, na wala siya (Dolina) sa unang listahan (So we know that even before the testimony of Espinosa, he [Dolina] is not in the first [drug] list," the President added.
The Senate is investigating the killing of former mayor Espinosa, who was served a search warrant by a CIDG 8 team led by Marcos. Senators said all indications show that Espinosa was killed in a rubout, a claim denied by Marcos.