War on drugs: Who are the Odictas of Iloilo?

ILOILO, Philippines – When businessman Melvin "Boyet" Odicta Sr, through his lawyers, denied any links to the illegal drug trade, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa wouldn't hear of it.

"Nag-surrender kuno doon sa Maynila, pero hindi sa akin nag-surrender. Dini-deny na hindi daw siya drug lord. Ano siya? Sinong niloloko niya? Kayo, 'di ba? Alam ninyo na siya ang drug lord tapos magdi-deny na hindi siya drug lord? Tell it to the Marines!" said Dela Rosa last Friday, August 26, during a visit to Fort San Pedro in Iloilo City.

(He supposedly surrendered in Manila but he didn't surrender to me. Now he's denying that he's a drug lord. Who does he think he is? Who is he fooling? You, right? You know that he's a drug lord and now he's denying it? Tell it to the Marines!)

While Dela Rosa did not say who he was referring to in his speech, he would later tell reporters that he was referring to Melvin Odicta.

Iloilo Mayor Jed Mabilog, himself allegedly linked to illegal drugs, told media in a separate interview that he hoped the police could gather enough evidence against the Odictas to make sure they would not be able to return to the city. Iloilo had been tagged the most "shabulized" province in the country by President Rodrigo Duterte. 

A day before Dela Rosa's speech, Odicta and his wife Merriam Regalado Odicta met with Interior Secretary Ismael "Mike" Sueno in Camp Crame, supposedly to "surrender" and to "reveal his own matrix of personalities involved including senators, congressmen, and other local officials," according to a media advisory from the Interior Department.

But Odicta would deny the existence of a matrix. Instead, the businessman and his wife submitted an affidavit to the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame.

Now, the two are dead.

The Odicta couple was gunned down early Monday, August 29, as they disembarked from a passenger ship at a port in Aklan.

Western Visayas regional director Chief Superintendent Jose Gentiles said they suspect that Odicta's "protectors or big-time associates" were behind the killings because "both disclosed something when they visited [Sueno]."

Bilibid detainee

When first told about the supposed surrender of the Odictas to Sueno, Dela Rosa in Bacolod City, on Thursday could only shake his head.

"Kahit 'wag ka nang magtanong sa amin. Sa mga tao dito, kilalang-kilala sila... kung sino sila (You don't even need to ask us. Just ask the people here. They know who the Odictas are)," Dela Rosa said Friday.

Locals know Melvin Odicta as "Dragon." His supposed links to illegal drugs is also common knowledge in the city, based on interviews with locals.

According to intelligence reports from the police, Odicta was arrested in the late 1980s, for violating Republic Act 6425 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the New Bilibid Prison.

But years later, he was released apparently after his lawyers used certain provisions in RA 7659 or the law that imposed the death penalty on certain heinous crimes and amended several penal laws, according to the same report.

Yet, the report noted, "there is no available document on hand to show how he managed to free himself despite his life sentence."

Sometime in 1997, Odicta "returned to his illegal activities on drug trafficking." By then, his links to the illegal drug trade had strengthened after he spent some time in Bilibid, according to the report.

Drug lords convicted and imprisoned in Bilibid are notorious for continuing their illicit businesses from inside the high-security prison.

Melvin meets Merriam

Melvin met Merriam in 1998.

But even before meeting Melvin, Merriam herself had supposed ties to illegal drugs. Her ex-husband, the late "Bondying" Porras, according to the police report, was also linked to illegal drugs.

"The wife is the one with good links to the drug industry," a police official familiar with the Odicta case told Rappler.

The Odictas started their legal businesses around this time, the PNP noted.

From a "small jewelry shop", the Odictas' businesses expanded to "Melvin Taxi," "Meriam Transport and Services," and a restaurant, among others.

Police also listed an "inland resort" and yacht as among the couple's alleged properties.

PNP delisted him before

In 1998, Melvin was almost arrested again, but Iloilo police would later find out that his warrants – for crimes not related to illegal drugs – had already been "recalled" by the court, a police familiar with the operation told Rappler.

In 2003, his home was raided by police through a search warrant, according to the intelligence report and police officials familiar with the operation. Cops then, however, did not file any case against him.

That same year, top police officials in Iloilo recommended Odicta's "delisting" from a watch list of personalities involved in illegal drugs.

The reason then? "Because he no longer had involvement in illegal drugs. All his businesses were legitimate," said the source, who refused to be named.

Between 2003 and today, however, Odicta once again showed up in lists of known drug personalities. His recent "surrender" before Sueno was prompted by reports that he was part of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Region 6's list.

Making headlines

In November 2015, Odicta made headlines after he was identified as among the 20 men who tried to enter a radio station in Iloilo City. The station at that time had supposedly started airing commentaries against illegal drugs, according to reports

Composed of 43 members, the "Odicta Gang" allegedly distributes illegal drugs in the entire Iloilo province, according to the police. They are also supposedly involved in illegal gambling.

The police intelligence report lists "judges, prosecutors, attorneys, PNP and military officers, and local government units" as the Odicta Gang's "connections".

Their taxi company, according to the police report, was also used to transport illegal drugs around the province and the city of Iloilo.

Despite these reports, however, police had been unable to gather enough evidence against the Odictas. 

Will their death help unmask the other personalities in their so-called gang? Or will this simply again be declared "case closed"? – Rappler.com