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NBI nabs alleged drug dealer at Closeup concert

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested a man suspected to be part of a group that sold illegal drugs at the Closeup Forever Summer open-air concert, where 5 attendees died. 

Anti-Illegal Drugs Division (AIDD) chief Joel Tovera made the announcement during a press conference on Saturday, May 28.

NBI operatives arrested suspect Joshua Habalo, alias “Josh,” late Friday evening during a party at the House of Manila club inside Remington Hotel in Pasay City. 

He was caught in possession of pink ecstasy tablets, packets of cocaine, and 3 green-colored tablets that may be the illegal designer drug, "green amore”, believed to have been sold at the concert. 

Green amore is a mixture of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or ecstacy, methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, and cialis, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction. Effects include insomnia, loss of appetite, and hypersexuality.

Naniniwala po tayo na isa siya sa mga big-time drug peddlers, pero hindi po siya ‘yung source ng mga sinasabi nating illegal drugs (We believe he is one of the big-time drug peddlers, but he is not the source of the illegal drugs),” said Tovera. 

Habalo told Rappler he attended the concert and was high on ecstasy. But he said he did not sell drugs. Nor does he know any of the victims.

'Di ako nagbenta ng drugs sa MOA (Mall of Asia). Umattend lang ako doon. Nandoon lang ako ng 1 am hanggang mga 2:30,” said Habalo. (I didn’t sell drugs at MOA. I just attended the party. I was there from 1 am to 2:30 am.) 

He added that he had already provided the NBI with names of about 10 groups who allegedly sold drugs at the Closeup concert held at the SM MOA concert grounds on May 21. 

The suspect is set to be presented to the Office of the Pasay City Prosecutor for inquest proceedings on Saturday afternoon for charges related to the violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of the Dangerous Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972.  

ENTRAPMENT. Lawyer Joel Tovera, chief of NBI Anti-Illegal Drugs Division, speaks to media during a press conference on May 28, 2016.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Closeup concert-goers Bianca Fontejon, Lance Garcia, Ariel Leal, Ken Migawa, and Robertson Miller are suspected to have died due to drug overdose, heatstroke, or even poisoning.

An initial NBI autopsy report on Fontejon and Garcia showed they died because of heart attack, water in their lungs, and internal bleeding. Their hearts, said NBI medico legal officer Dr Wilfredo Tierra, were blackened.

The bureau is conducting a parallel investigation on the Closeup incident apart from the Southern Police District.

Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said on Saturday that stricter security measures should be imposed on open-air concerts like Closeup Forever Summer. (READ: Closeup concert security report: 400 men, 6 sniffer dogs deployed)

"Isa diyan siguro ‘yung kahalagahan ng regulasyon para sa mga event na ganyan. Ibig sabihin natin, 'yung hindi lamang 'yung tinatawag na perimeter security, siguro dapat na rin ay mayroong... samahan na rin ng inspeksyon kung ano ang mga naipapasok doon sa area ng concert dahil nga malakihang gathering ito," he said.

(Measures to regulate events like this areimportant. This means not only improving perimeter security, but there should also be an inspection of the items being brought into the concert area because these are big gatherings.)

Entrapment operation

NBI senior investigator Salvador Arteche Jr led an entrapment operation from 11 pm to 2 am against Habalo after getting being tipped off about a club reservation under the suspect's name.

NBI AIDD agents, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and local police, went undercover as club-goers and met Habalo. 

Tovera said the suspect offered them ecstasy priced at P1,500 per tablet.

The agents then agreed to buy 5 ecstasy tablets from Habalo. After he accepted the marked money, the authorities apprehended the suspect.

Habalo was in possession of 10 peach-colored tablets, 3 green-colored capsules, and 5 self-sealing plastic containers with a white powder substance.

The NBI is now conducting tests to determine if all of the confiscated drugs are part of the prohibited drugs list in the country.

Suspect caught before 

u0022GREEN AMORE.u0022 A sample of the green amore designer drug from the NBI.

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Tovera explained that the NBI AIDD had been monitoring Habalo since his first arrest in 2014. 

At the time, he was caught with drugs that looked like green amore pills, but they contained only synthetic cathinones, a stimulant found in the khat plant.  

Its effects on the body are similar to ecstasy, but Philippine law had not yet classified them as illegal. Tovera said this was why the NBI had to release Habalo two years ago. 

The use of synthetic cathinones, however, are banned in Canada, the United Kingdom, and most of the United States.

On Tuesday, the NBI said their forensic analysis of the drugs seized from Habalo confirmed that the pink tablets contained ecstacy as well as MDMA homolog. 

NBI Forensic Investigation Service Division chief Rommel Papa said MMDA homolog is a chemical used for forensic and laboratory reserch. 

"It is a laboratory chemical and it is not for human consumption nor veterinary use, so making it more dangerous," he said.

Papa said they also confirmed that the white powder substances they nabbed from Habalo were cocaine.

As for the green capsules, they only contained synthetic cathinones. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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