MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Peter Joemel Advincula surfaced on Monday, May 6, at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. Better known as “Bikoy” in the video about “Ang Totoong Narco List” (The True Narco List) that circulated on social media in April, he was bald, clean-shaven, and had put on some bulk.
He stirred up a hornet’s nest as the hooded Bikoy who prompted authorities to go after a man initially wrongly identified as being the “uploader” of the controversial video. No less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra called a press conference on May 2 to announce that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had collared a certain Rodel Jayme who created a website metrobalita.net that “shared” the Bikoy videos.
The 30-year-old Advincula said he did not know Jayme.
The appearance of Advincula is a clear attempt to lend more credibility to the serious charges made in the video against members of the Duterte family – including his former aide, Bong Go – linking them to the illegal drug trade and the “Davao Group” and “Quadrangle Group” syndicates that allegedly paid out billions of pesos over a span of several years.
The charges are incredible and rich material for fiction but to whistle-blower Advincula, who says he was part of the drug syndicate that operated out of Southern Luzon and the Visayas region, they are real.
Should we believe him?
Joepet Advincula was born March 22, 1989 in Donsol, Sorsogon to a religious family. His mother was parish secretary while his father was a farmer who also cooked Filipino delicacies or kakanin.
As a young student, he was recognized as a leader and an achiever. He graduated with honors in grade school from Donsol West Central School in March 2001 and pursued secondary education and became president of the Knights of the Altar.
His father told Advincula that he almost died from dehydration when he was only 4 months old. The infant had loose bowel movement the entire day and had to be brought to the hospital. While he was being treated, Advincula said in his narration, his father went to the hospital chapel and prayed fervently. “Diyos ko, buhayin mo lang siya. Ibibigay ko siya bilang alagad mo!” (Lord, let him leave and I will offer him as your servant.)
True enough, Advincula aspired to be a priest and entered the seminary in 2005 after graduating from high school. He underwent pre-college formation before pursuing an AB Philosophy degree. During this time, he said he became chairperson of the Commission on Media for Evangelization in Sorsogon. It was around this time, too, that he developed some knowledge about and skills in information technology.
After 4 years of study, he served in different parishes of the provincial diocese but had to leave because his father got very ill. He passed away in late 2009, Advincula said, forcing him to look for a job to get his youngest sibling through college. He joined the corporate world, not knowing it would lead him astray.
Into the black hole
From a young seminarian knowledgeable about information technology, Advincula became adept at marketing, eventually being introduced in early 2010 to a certain Maria Teresa Rañola, who owned a network marketing franchise company. He worked for her in Bicol under First Vita Plus as a marketing consultant, data programmer, and technical controller, among others.
It was she, according to Advincula, who introduced him to Elizalde “Zaldy” Co, who in 2010, had already established a name for himself in the construction industry in Bicol. The CEO of Sunwest Group of Companies and owner of the luxury resort Misibis Bay in Cagraray in Albay, Co was also reported to be among the richest men in Bicol.
In the statement that he read on May 6, Advincula said he was transferred to the operations center of a syndicate that allegedly operated out of Misibis Bay.
In an earlier interview in February 2019, he said he served as “control man [of the] radio base of CCTV operations [of] underground facilities [in] Misibis Bay.” Later, he also said, he was transferred to the syndicate’s “Transmitting and Facilitating Team,” which was tasked with preparing the monthly “tara” – essentially a listing of collections and payoffs or allocations to alleged principals of the syndicate.
This was denied by the company in a statement: “Misibis Bay is a first class, family-oriented resort. It has never been used as headquarters or as a front for any kind of illicit trade. Even claims that the resort allegedly uses one of its basements as a drug laboratory is false.”
An Inquirer report said Tuesday evening management was intending to file cyber libel charges against Advincula for "falsely and maliciously" claiming that the resort was a "venue for illegal drug trading."
Advincula said they scanned codes allegedly embedded as tattoos of some “senior members” of the syndicate. To validate the transactions, these codes were sent, according to Advincula, to the “financial controller” of the syndicate based in Hong Kong.
He claimed that he himself scanned the code embedded on the tattoo of Bong Go – an allegation that was refuted by Go himself when, on May 6, he bared his back that bore no tattoo.
“It’s black propaganda. This is a political season. I never met, saw, or talked to Bikoy…. If [you can prove that] I saw Bikoy even just once, do not vote for me,” Go said in Filipino during the press conference of Luntiang Pilipinas in Calamba, Laguna on the same day.
Like many whistle-blowers, Advincula is not without a dark past. He was convicted of estafa in 2012 and was sentenced to 6 years' imprisonment.
He said during the February interview that it was in October 2012 that he wanted out of the syndicate because he heard he would be killed. He tried to flee but was picked up by NBI agents along the Molino-Dasmariñas Road in Cavite. Advincula was brought to the NBI Cavite District Office and held there for a week.
He was told he had an existing warrant of arrest for alleged “illegal recruitment in large scale” in Naga as a result of the collapsed web program of investors in Rañola’s company. He claimed these were trumped-up charges.
From December 2012 until May 2016, or a little over 3 years, Advincula was a detainee at the Naga City District Jail. He was eventually transferred to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City bearing a “certificate of good conduct time allowance” and a “certificate of good moral character.”
While in jail, Advincula found himself returning to what he used to do as a young seminarian and became active in church activities. In his interview, he also said he became an “inmate teacher” and a “paralegal aide.”
By April 2017, due to good conduct, he was released from Bilibid. He boasted about his “legacy” – a database system of all detainees in the Naga City District Jail. Now they are able to plug in the names of those who are jailed and check or update the record of anyone previously imprisoned.
“Naisipan ko na magbagong buhay at nakahanap ako ng trabaho na legal at marangal,” Advincula said in his May 6 statement. (I thought of starting a new life and found a legal and honorable job.)
He became an account executive of Ardeur World Marketing Corp-Naga branch, as part of its sales and investment team. During the company’s annual Christmas party in December 2017 in its main branch in Quezon City, Advincula said he crossed paths again with Bong Go.
“Namukhaan nya ako. Simula nuon ay ginigipit na ako ng may-ari ng kumpanya, hanggang sa isang araw ay sinabihan ako ng katrabaho ko na mabuti pang umalis na ako dahil nanganganib na ang buhay ko,” Advincula said in his statement. (He recognized me. Afterwards, the owner started harassing me until one day, a co-worker told me it’s better for me to leave because my life was in danger.)
Not long after, he thought it wise to resign from the company.
In August 2018, Advincula made up his mind to go into hiding and expose what he knew about alleged operations of the syndicate he used to be part of. Former colleagues, he said, passed on to him documents of alleged transactions, some of which he was supposedly aware of himself.
Is he telling the truth?
“Hindi lang ako ang magsasalita dito. May naghihintay pa… Lumabas lang ako, lalantad din sila. Kumbaga, ako na lang ang advanced party. May mga lalabas pa. May mga lalabas pa.”
(I am not the only one who will speak out. There are others waiting… I just stepped out, the others will also do. I’m just like the advance party. There will be others who will.)
Until then, we wait. – Rappler.com
Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.