'Narco mayors': Politics behind supposed links to illegal drugs

MANILA, Philippines – At least two people accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of having ties to illegal drugs have pointed to politics as the reason why their names were there in the first place.

In separate affidavits issued before the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Camp Crame, Naguilian Mayor Reynaldo Flores and former Labangan Mayor Abubakar Afdal said that politics could be the reason behind their inclusion in the now-infamous Duterte list.

Last week, the President read on live television a list of politicians, police, and members of the judiciary with alleged links to the illegal drugs trade. While admitting himself that some names in the list may or may not be true, he insisted that it went through a verification process.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who faced the politicians and cops named in the list earlier in Camp Crame, downplayed possible mistakes in the list, saying that the public should focus on the good it does in the government’s campaign against crime, criminality, and illegal drugs.

Sa aking palagay po, dahil po sa paghuli namin ng isang shabu laboratory sa aming bayan ay nagalit po ang incumbent congressman na si Congressman Thomas Butz Dumpit, Jr. at ako po ang pinangalan na mastermind kasama ko po si dating mayor Eufranio Eriguel ng Agoo, La Union,” said Flores in his affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler.

The mayor was asked how his name was linked to illegal drugs in the first place.

(I think it started when we caught a shabu laboratory in our town. The incumbent congressman, Congressman Thomas Butz Dumpit, Jr got angry and I was named a mastermind alongside former mayor Eufranio Eriguel of Agoo, La Union.)

Eriguel is also on Duterte’s list.

Flores was referring to the discovery of a shabu lab in Naguilian, purportedly one of the biggest in the country, back in 2008. Authorities then were able to seize over P27 million in chemicals and equipment mean to produce illegal drugs.

In his affidavit, Flores said it was one of his barangay captains who first reported a foul smell emanating from the area where the lab was eventually found. When local officials came to check if the establishment had the right permits, they discovered that it was, in fact, a laboratory.

In 2013, a La Union court found Senior Superintendent Dionicio Borromeo guilty of being the shabu lab’s protector. The police colonel was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined P10 million. Another cop, Borromeo’s assistant PO3 Joey Tabang, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and fined half a million pesos.

Flores insisted that he was part of the fight against illegal drugs “since he was young.”

At noong mahuli ang shabu laboratory na ito, marami na rin na threat at pangbobomba sa akin at pagpatay sa aking mga kaibigan, kakilala at mga Barangay Officials. Subalit hindi doon nagtapos iyun, dahil hanggang ngayon ay marami pa rin na mga threat sa aking buhay at nilalaban ako sa politika hanggang dinawit ang pangalan ko dito sa illegal drugs ng mga politico kaya po sa aking palagay ang aking mga nasagasaan sa paghuli sa shabu laboratory ako pa ay ginagantihan,” he said.

(When we caught this shabu lab in 2008, many threatened to bomb me, to kill my friends, to kill barangay officials. But it didn’t end there because to this day there are many threats against my life. Some political rivals link my name to illegal drugs so that’s why I think that the people who I hit in catching that shabu laboratory are seeking revenge against me now.)

In their dialogue with Dela Rosa in Camp Crame on August 8, some local chief executives expressed concern over their safety and the possibility of political rivals taking advantage of the situation.

Afdal, meanwhile, also denied any involvement in illegal drugs. “Noong ako pa ay Mayor ng Labangan Zamboanga del Sur, taong 2008 ng idawit ako ni Gov Anthony Celleres sa illegal na droga dahil sa away pulitika. Magmula po noon ay nabalitaan ko na lang na nasa Watchlist daw ako ng PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency),” the former mayor said in his affidavit.

(When I was still mayor of Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur in the year 2008, Governor Anthony Celleres accused me of involvement in illegal drugs because of our political squabbles. From then on, I heard I was on the watchlist of the PDEA.)

The PDEA is the lead agency in all anti-illegal drug operations in the Philippines.

Afdal said he even went to the PDEA headquarters in Metro Manila in hopes of clearing his name. “Sinabihin ako ng taga PDEA na wala naman ako sa watchlist nila. Sinubukan kong kumuha ng Certification nila pero ang sabi sa akin ay ipapadala na lang pero wala naman akong natanggap,” he said.

(The PDEA said that I wasn’t on their watch list. I tried to get a certification but they said they’d sent it to me instead. I never got that certification.)

A bulk of he personalities in Duterte’s list have flocked to either Camp Crame or other nearby police offices in hopes of clearing their names.

Even before Duterte named the persons in the list, at least 4 mayors had “voluntarily surrendered” before Dela Rosa in Camp Crame. At least 2 have admitted to involvement in illegal drugs in the past.

Another mayor, Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, admitted that his son was a drug lord in the Eastern Visayas region but denied having any links themselves. An earlier police operation found millions in illegal drugs near their home.

Subsequent operations against Espinosa have resulted in the seizure of firearms and the deaths of their alleged henchmen. As of posting, the CIDG has filed cases against the Espinosas. – Rappler.com