Ex-cop Acierto speaks out: Duterte, PNP ignored intel on Michael Yang’s drug links

Rambo Talabong, Camille Elemia

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Ex-cop Acierto speaks out: Duterte, PNP ignored intel on Michael Yang’s drug links
(UPDATED) Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Chief Aaron Aquino confirms he received the intelligence report against presidential adviser Michael Yang and submitted it to Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A disgruntled veteran anti-drug operative who had been implicated in drug smuggling accused President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine National Police (PNP) of ignoring an intelligence report and blocking further probe into presidential economic adviser Michael Yang’s alleged drug links.

Dismissed cop Eduardo Acierto, former deputy director for administration of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (DEG), presented 2017 documents detailing the supposed links of Yang and another Chinese national Allan Lim to illegal drugs.

He submitted these to his superiors in the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). These officials confirmed that Acierto indeed gave them the report.

Acierto claimed he wanted Duterte to know about Yang and Lim, as the President might not have been aware of their links to the drug trade.

Acierto, an anti-narcotics operative for 18 years, said that his group’s intel on Yang might have caught the ire of Duterte, who, in turn, accused him of involvement in the P11-billion worth of illegal drugs smuggled through magnetic lifters in 2018. 

“My conclusion there is that the drug lords have penetrated the upper echelons of government….They now have access to authorities. They weren’t investigated, instead I was the one being probed now…. Yes, [the President] tolerated them,” said Acierto, who has been in hiding since October 2018. Acierto met with select reporters on Sunday, March 24.

TIES. Acierto presents a photo of President Duterte with Michael Yang (R) and Allan Lim (L).

No less than the President first revealed the existence of a dossier against Yang during a Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association event in October 2018. Duterte’s statements indicated that the intel against Yang had reached him.

This Michael Yang who is alleged to be a drug addict, Michael Yang, the ambassador of China sleeps in his house. And he was part of the Premier’s entourage….The allegation is not true. He’s been in Davao for a long time,” Duterte earlier said.

As he cleared Yang from drug links before PMA alumni, he accused Acierto, a member of PMA Class ’89, and other supposedly scalawag cops of being involved in drugs.

In a separate pre-recorded video, Acierto said: “Kung talagang galit si Presidente Duterte sa droga ba’t di niya pinahuli ang mga nasabing taong ito? O pinaimbestigahan man lang?” (If the President is really angry at drugs, why didn’t he order the arrest of this person or at least investigate him?)

“Bakit consultant ng Presidente? Kung galit ang Presidente sa droga, bakit kasama-sama lagi?” he added. (Why is he a consultant of the President? If the President is against drugs, why is Yang always with him?)

The intelligence report supposedly reached Malacañang early 2018.

Magnetic lifters

In July, the controversial magnetic lifters containing drugs entered the Philippines.

In August, following an Ombudsman order, Acierto and others were dismissed over the anomalous issuance of AK-47 rifles during the previous administration.

In October, he was accused of directing the illegal entry of the magnetic lifters. Acierto said he has since gone into hiding, with the help of the Catholic Church, fearing for his life. He claimed there is a P15-million bounty on his head.

According to Acierto, he received various intel about Yang as early as the 2016 presidential elections campaign. But he said it took him more than a year to validate the information and find a confidential informant, who was given the alias “Panther.”

The report contained information from Panther, as well as past operation reports dating as far back as 2004. Asked about the credibility of Panther, Acierto refused to divulge information.

Before Christmas 2017, Acierto said he submitted the intel to then PDEA National Capital Region regional director Ismael Fajardo Jr, who relayed it to PDEA chief Aaron Aquino. Fajardo had been accused of having advance knowledge about the magnetic lifters shipment by Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban. Fajardo has gone into hiding.

Acierto said he also presented the report to PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde.

The ex-cop also claimed former PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa received a copy of the report through former PNP directorate for operations head, deputy director general Camilo Cascolan.

Asked for proof, Acierto admitted he has no “received” copies of the documents.

“They can always say [deny] that… But they should man up,” he said.

PDEA chief confirms

According to Acierto, PDEA’s Aquino called him in January 2018 to inquire about the authenticity and veracity of the report. Aquino then supposedly assured him that the report will be discussed with Duterte.

In February 2018, Aquino again called Acierto informing him that the report was already discussed with former special assistant to the President Bong Go. Nothing happened after that, Acierto claimed.

BONG GO. In this undated photo from Acierto, the President's close aide Go is seen talking to Michael Yang (in light shirt)  and Allan Lim (in printed shirt).

Rappler sought Aquino, Dela Rosa, Albayalde, and Cascolan for comment. Only Dela Rosa has yet to reply as of posting.

Aquino confirmed receiving Acierto’s report and submitting it to Malacañang. He said he could not recall when he passed on the information to the Palace.

Acierto said Aquino earlier told him it was submitted to Go, but the PDEA chief did not name the official.

“He (Acierto) gave me a copy of the report. He was very, very happy because he said I was the only one who acted on it. He said, ‘Sir maybe you can give it to Malacañang.’ I submitted it to Malacañang. He was happy that I did that,” Aquino told Rappler in a phone interview on Monday, March 25.

Aquino said the Malacañang official he spoke with told him there would be an investigation.

Kasi parang ‘yang si Michael Yang is somehow kilala ng Presidente ‘yan, parang kinausap yata. I’m not sure kung kinausap at nagtatanong (Malacañang) sa report na ginawa niya (Acierto) na naparating ko (I think Michael Yang is somehow known by the President. I think he talked to Yang. I’m not sure if Malacañang talked to Acierto),” Aquino said.

“I know it has reached the President. They said they will conduct an investigation. That’s what I know, that it reached Malacañang,” he added.

Despite the intel, Yang has not been included in President Duterte’s drug list.

Aquino said he found a Michael Yang in their own watch list they keep, but he said the information was from Pangasinan. He said he was unsure whether it was just a namesake.

“I had it checked against the [Duterte] list and our watch list. His name was not in the Duterte list,” Aquino said.

Cascolan, in a separate interview with Rappler, confirmed receiving a report from Acierto, but he did not specify its contents. He corroborated Acierto’s earlier statement, as Cascolan said he received it when he was still the director for operations of the PNP, when Dela Rosa was PNP chief. 

Cascolan said he gave Acierto’s intelligence report to Dela Rosa.

“He gave me a report. I didn’t look much on it. As for me, he said ‘Sir, I hope this reaches the higher-ups.’ He gave me a report, I gave it to Bato. I believe Bato called him for a meeting, I think. And I don’t know anything about the meeting,” Cascolan said.

Acierto claimed he never met Dela Rosa to discuss the report.

Who blocked it?

Albayalde, in an interview, first said he never talked to Acierto. After being shown a photo with Acierto, he said he could not remember if he met with the latter and if he indeed received the intel report.

“I cannot remember that. Hindi ko matandaan ‘yan sa totoo lang, sa dami ng…Puwedeng ibang meeting ‘yan, sinasabi lang niya di ba? (I cannot remember that out of all the many meetings…. It could be a different meeting and he’s just saying it’s ours, right?)” Albayalde said.

He also questioned the credibility of Acierto, saying Acierto should have known that intelligence needs to be validated. And once verified, he could operate immediately, as he does not need to report it.

“Why is he only speaking now? He should have operated on that person, and then he was able to prove that he is really involved. Why didn’t he do that when he had the chance? How can you prove his credibility now? He has no credibility. What’s happening is, he’s doing a shotgun,” the PNP chief said.

Aquino and Albayalde also denied knowing who blocked the report and further actions against Yang.

“It should be checked whether or not it was blocked. We should know the details of what happened just to be sure,” the PDEA director general said.

“Well I don’t know kung sino ang nagharang sa kanya (who blocked him). Is it his immediate boss? I don’t know. Hindi ko alam, ha. Hindi ko alam kung meron siya talagang ano, who will prevent him from doing it kung talagang meron siyang ano. Wala naman kasing sinisino-sino ang war on drugs natin di ba (I don’t know if he really has information. Because our war on drugs is not selective),” the PNP chief said.

Acierto said he also gave the Senate blue ribbon committee chair Richard Gordon a copy of the report during an executive session in October.

Gordon, he said, only dismissed the photos of Yang with Go and Duterte as a normal thing for public figures. Rappler reached out to Gordon but he has not yet replied as of posting.

The elusive Michael Yang

The name of Yang – or alias Dragon, owing to his supposed tattoo on his shoulder and arm – cropped up during the continuous investigation into the Johnson Chua Drug Trafficking Syndicate, where Yang and Lim supposedly serve as “facilitators” of shipments. Their asking price was reportedly pegged at P50,000 per kilo.

CONSULTANT.' President Rodrigo Duterte and adviser Michael Yang sit beside each other. Photo from Philippine Full Win Group of Companies website

On May 12, 2017, Police Inspector Lito Pirote, intelligence officer of the Special Operations Unit 3, submitted an information report stating that a certain Hongming Yang (Yang’s Chinese name) was involved in the clandestine laboratory operation that was discovered and dismantled in Davao City in 2004. It was led by Acierto’s team at the now defunct Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF).

On May 15, the same officer and unit submitted another report stating that Chua, together with other Chinese and Filipino-Chinese nationals, are involved in the importation and transshipment of drugs.

Based on these information, Acierto said he went to Davao City on August 10 to 12 and met with Panther, who was working with Yang and the group.

Five days after the meeting, on August 17, Acierto submitted a report claiming that Yang is “tightly linked” with the Chua drug sydicate based on Panther’s information. He requested and recommended further information validation, financial investigation, and high-level case operation plan, among others.

Of the 3 Chinese, only Yang had no case against him. Chua has two standing arrest warrants for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 – one from a court in Cagayan de Oro City in 2005 and another one from Parañaque in 2015. In 2005, authorities raided a shabu laboratory in CDO owned by Chua.

POWER. Michael Yan is seated beside Bong Go. President Duterte and Honeylet Avanceña are also there. File photo by Malacañang

Lim was arrested in a separate 2003 operation in a clandestine shabu laboratory in Cavite. A case was filed against him but was dismissed due to the poor handling of evidence by authorities.

Acierto’s report claimed that the 3 Chinese men “have formed a group to solidify their illegal drug business” using legitimate firms as front. Chua is said to be based in Macau while Yang and Lim, are in the Philippines.

Citing Panther, the intel report identified Yang as the owner of mall chain DCLA Plaza in Mindanao.

This information was confirmed by Duterte himself in his October 2018 statement: 

“Nag-DCLA ‘yan. Lahat ng nagpapautang na Chinese ‘yan ang negosyo niya. Kalaking bloke niyan sa – noon pa, hindi ngayon. Isang bloke sa Davao, binili niya lahat. Kanya ‘yan puro department store.” (He was into DCLA. All the Chinese who needed loans, that was his business. He had such a big block – before, not now. An entire block in Davao, he bought it. He owns all the department stores.)

Panther, in August 2017, also claimed that Yang is “in close contact” with Duterte and Go. No other details or evidence were given except for photos of the two officials with Yang and Lim. (READ: From Michael Yang to Dennis Uy: Who’s who at Xi Jinping state banquet)

FUN. In this photo presented by Acierto, President Duterte is seen having fun with Michael Yang and other Chinese nationals.

Duterte earlier denied Yang was his economic adviser. But contracts obtained by Rappler showed that the Chinese citizen was indeed working for Duterte. When documents surfaced, Malacañang later on backtracked and confirmed the relationship. (LOOK: Michael Yang’s calling card bears Malacañang seal)

In April 2018, Yang was seen attending the baptism of the child of former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon. 

Faeldon had resigned after a series of congressional hearings, where he was accused of involvement in the May 2017 smuggling of P6.4-billion worth of shabu into the Philippines. 

Acierto’s axe to grind, accomplishments

But are Acierto’s allegations self-serving? After all, he has an axe to grind after being implicated in drug smuggling.

“I discovered this even before I was accused of smuggling. I tried to make it reach them….Would it be self-serving to defend yourself?” Acierto said.

The embattled Acierto relies on his 18-year stint as a drug operative to speak for itself.

His accomplishments include the raiding of a drug laboratory in Antipolo in 2003; the 2006 dismantling of the shabu tiangge in Pasig City, which led to the arrest of Amin Imam Boratong and his wife and a sentence of life imprisonment; the 2005 seizure of 675 kilos of shabu worth P1.3 billion and the subsequent extradition of its financier Calvin Tan from Hongkong; the seizure of almost a ton of ephedrine at a clandestine laboratory in Scout Chuatoco; and the 2015 arrest of Mexican Horacio Herrera, believed to be a member of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.

In February this year, Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 63 found Herrera guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

“If you check my records, I have no case involving drugs….All our work there were above board. AIDSOTF has the highest conviction rate, 70%,” Acierto said.

“If I didn’t have a good record in fighting drugs, those helping me now would not trust me…. Even foreign counterparts, even if I was no longer part of the team, they still talk to me. I also still meet with attachés. I am not prayerful, but I have fear in the Lord,” he claimed.

While Acierto said he has no drug-related cases, the Ombudsman ordered his dismissal in 2015 over an anomalous deal between the PNP Firearms and Explosive Office, where he belonged at the time, and Werfast, a courier company tapped to deliver firearms licenses cards. But the Court of Appeals reversed it and ordered his reinstatement.

The Ombudsman also ordered his dismissal over the rifles issue, which was enforced in August 2018.

On top of that, he was officer-in-charge of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drug Group in early 2017 when Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo was murdered inside Camp Crame. But he denied involvement and claimed his role was merely administrative.

“Yes, I was the OIC at the time but it doesn’t mean I knew about the operation. The OIC is only serving an administrative role….And at that time, the operation was very compartmentalized. And with the current situation of our technology, operations can be controlled via phones.” he said, adding there was no administration case filed against him over the issue.

But why surface only now, when he was already implicated in drug smuggling? Acierto said there is nothing to lose when death threats abound.

“I will come out once I know that there is justice and fairness. At present, there is no level playing field for me,” Acierto said.

Kung ikamatay ko ito, ok lang sa akin. At least nasabi ko na… Nalabas ko na. (If I die because of this, it’s fine with me. At least I’ve said what I know).” – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.
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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.