International Criminal Court

Davao shabu lab raid: ‘Eliminate them all’

Rappler Investigative Team
Davao shabu lab raid: ‘Eliminate them all’

Wei Jianxing

Graphics by Emil Mercado

Eleven mainland Chinese were arrested while manufacturing shabu in a warehouse in Davao City in 2004. Asked for their passports, they said these were with their employer, mini-mall owner Michael Yang.
Must Read

Green Heights roundup: Workers killed for knowing about shabu lab

Green Heights roundup: Workers killed for knowing about shabu lab

Who is Michael Yang (a.k.a. Yang Hongming) and why are President Rodrigo Duterte and his Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Wilkins Villanueva readily prepared to absolve him of alleged links to the illegal drug trade?

If Duterte’s self-confessed former hitman would be believed, the President has been “in partnership with Michael Yang” since his days as Davao City mayor, protecting his illegal business. He would later appoint the Chinese businessman as presidential adviser who facilitated investments, including the questionable multi-billion-peso pandemic contracts now being investigated by the Senate. 

Former Davao Death Squad (DDS) insider Arturo Lascañas recounts one of the incidents where Duterte’s “personal killing machine” was put to work to silence drug suspects who were connected to Yang: the 2004 New Year’s Eve raid on a shabu laboratory in Ulas, where 11 believed to be Chinese or Taiwanese citizens were arrested after six of their companions were killed in an alleged shootout. 

Must Read

DDS insider links Rodrigo Duterte, Michael Yang to drug trade

DDS insider links Rodrigo Duterte, Michael Yang to drug trade

Former cop Lascañas, who has been in hiding since he went against Duterte in 2017, executed a 186-page affidavit to disclose what he personally knew and witnessed as a DDS insider for more than 20 years. His written testimony has been accepted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is investigating the killings that happened under Duterte’s nationwide war on drugs and during some of his years as Davao City mayor. 

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a text message: “Can’t respond to hearsay (sic) evidence. ​​ [What’s] the value of affidavits not subject to criss (sic) [cross examination] even for journos. We will respond if theres (sic) evidence that would corroborate self serving affidavits. Thx”

Yang’s lawyer Raymond Fortun said the accusation is “without factual basis.”

Rappler reached out to Villanueva, and he declined to comment. 

Duterte’s order: No traces of the bodies

Lascañas recalled that on December 31, 2004, he received orders allegedly from then-mayor Duterte to get rid of the Chinese who were apprehended during a high-profile PDEA raid on a shabu laboratory that same day. The order was relayed to Lascañas by Senior Police Officer 4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura, the team leader for field operations of Davao City’s Heinous Crime Task Group. 

Duterte allegedly issued instructions. “We have to eliminate them all, and dispose [of them] in a very clean manner, that no remains or traces of their bodies could be recovered,” Lascañas said in his affidavit.

Buenaventura, a trusted driver and bodyguard of Duterte for many years, was a conduit for instructions from the Davao City chief executive. It was allegedly common practice for Duterte to relay his “final orders of executions/killings” to the DDS members through him and several others.

When asked how he was certain that instructions relayed to them genuinely came from Duterte, Lascañas told Rappler in an interview on September 23, he knew because the killings that Duterte knew and approved of remained unsolved.

Ang simple arithmetic diyan, ’pag may clearance kay Duterte, lahat ng krimen ng Davao City unsolved. Pero kung walang clearance ni Mayor Duterte ’yung krimen na ’yan, siguradong ma-solve ’yan ng pulis kasi ayaw ni Mayor Duterte na meron pang mas matigas sa kanya sa Davao City. Kahit ano’ng gawin mo, mag-clear ka lang sa kanya, kung OK sa kanya, tahimik lahat ‘yan – media, lahat, pulis, tahimik ’yan kasi control niya lahat…,“ he said during the interview. 

(The simple arithmetic there is that, once there was clearance from Duterte, all crimes in Davao City would remain unsolved. But if there was no clearance from Mayor Duterte, that crime would, for sure, be solved by the police because Mayor Duterte disliked having someone tougher than him in Davao City. Anything you’d do, just clear with him, and if OK with him, everyone would be quiet – media, everyone, police, they’d keep quiet because he controlled all of them…)

Another sure sign that Duterte gave or cleared the order to kill was the reward – often in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pesos – that came after the job was done. “Matatanggap mo ang reward na galing kay Mayor,” Lascañas told Rappler. (You’d receive the reward from Mayor.)

Shootout and arrests

In his affidavit, Lascañas recalled: “Sonny informed me that a shabu laboratory located in Ulas along the highway going to Toril, D.C. (Davao City) was raided by the elements of PDEA XI, under Superintendent Wilkins Villanueva, with members of PDEA National HQ [headquarters] from Manila. He told me that hundreds of kilos of high grade shabu were recovered inside the laboratory. Six Chinese nationals were killed during the raid, and that one Alan Sy, the alleged mastermind, was apprehended with ten (10) other companions. All were Chinese nationals.”

SHOOTOUT? Six men, believed to be Chinese are killed during a 2004 raid on a warehouse that was also a clandestine shabu laboratory. From a Powerpoint presentation obtained from then-anti-narcotics Eduardo Acierto

The raid made a belated splash in the inside pages of national newspapers on Sunday, January 2, 2005, as it involved the 11th big drug lab found in 2004 and had been the subject of surveillance for two to three months already. According to an Inquirer report, the raid was made possible by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, the Taiwan Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, and the Taiwanese police.

The joint operation involving PDEA in Manila, the Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force, the Police Anti-Crime and Emergency Response or PACER team based in Davao, and the local police resulted in the killing of six foreigners believed to be either Chinese or Taiwanese, reports said. The PDEA XI agents who raided the warehouse on MacArthur Highway in Toril district were led by Villanueva. 

In the news articles about the December 31 raid, only the six foreigners who were killed were reported. There was no mention of the 11 others who were arrested. In fact, Duterte even said Allan Sy, supposedly one of the 11 turned over to Lascañas, was still being hunted. The then-mayor described Sy as the “alleged financier of the shabu laboratory.” 

Follow-up operations

Subsequent reports indicated there were followup operations that week in Davao City. A Powerpoint presentation prepared by anti-narcotics agent Eduardo Acierto in March 2019 confirmed these: in Obrero and Bunawan on January 1, and in Agdao on January 3.

Another police operative who was part of the follow-up operations told Rappler that joint Philippine National Police (PNP) and PDEA units, armed with a search warrant, managed to enter the apartment where the Chinese suspects had lived in, and seized albums of photographs. These photographs were handed over to  Villanueva.

The Rappler source said Duterte himself actively participated in looking for more suspects during the follow-up operations, even driving his own vehicle to one of their alleged safe houses.

The source’s account of searching an apartment in a follow-up raid on January 1 is consistent with reports that 10 more Chinese were arrested “in the row of apartments in Bo. Obrero…where Sy and his family are also residing.” 

A little over a month later, Duterte announced that he had “facilitated the release” of eight of those 10 suspects from the January 1 raid “in the spirit of the Chinese New Year and for humanitarian reasons.” Sy’s parents were named as among the eight supposedly ordered released because they had “nothing to do with illegal drugs.” 

Arrested Chinese said they worked for Yang 

While the media reported that Sy was still being hunted down after the raid on December 31, 2004, Lascañas said he had actually spoken with Sy because the alleged mastermind and the 10 other suspects were turned over to him at the parking lot of the Star Mart Caltex station near SM Ecoland on the same day as the high-profile PDEA raid.

They were handed over by PDEA XI’s SPO4 Val Carillo, who transported them in a dark blue L-300 van. Carillo and his two companions alighted from the van and rode a taxi, while Lascañas took over the wheel of the van and left behind his pick-up vehicle.

“I was on the wheel, [SPO1] Jim Tan (later promoted to SPO4) on the front passenger seat, the other two (cops in civilian attire) were inside at our back with the eleven Chinese nationals. All were alive, hogtied from [feet] to their hands at the back and blindfolded with masking tape. Three or four were female,” Lascañas said in his affidavit.

They headed to the Laud quarry in Ma-a, Davao City, and arrived at close to midnight of January 1, 2005. SPO4 Bienvenido “Ben” Laud was waiting for them, “as instructed by SPO4 Sonny Buenaventura.” Only the penlight that Lascañas carried with him and the flashlight of Laud lit what was an otherwise very dark place.

When Lascañas asked the Chinese who among them could speak “English or Tagalog,” Sy, who was described as more or less  5’10” in height, stood up and volunteered himself. With only his feet freed, Sy was brought by Lascañas to a nearby shed with a nipa roof. He told Lascañas that, of the 10 Chinese, only three were known to him, two of them women. The three who were known to Sy were drug chemists who all came from the mainland.

When Lascañas asked for Sy’s passport, he was told it was confiscated by the arresting policemen. In his affidavit, the former DDS insider recalled that when he requested Sy to ask his other Chinese companions about their passports, he was told: “Their passports were apparently in the possession of their employer, Mr. Michael Yang of DCLA business establishment in Davao City.” 

Lascañas said he started harboring doubts about Duterte and Yang. He said in his affidavit: “I opted to keep to myself this vital information I’ve heard from these Davao Shabu laboratory workers and chemist, considering the several circumstantial events that raised my doubts[,] suspicion on Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s sincerity and honesty on his illegal drugs campaign because Mr. Michael Yang’s sponsor and patron in Davao City was Mr. Sammy Uy, a bosom friend of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte.” 

Uy was a campaign contributor of Duterte when he sought and won the presidency in 2016. We attempted to contact Uy through his office, and were given an email address where, staff said, messages sent to him would be relayed by his children. We will update this report once we receive a response from him. 

Must Read

THE LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘I killed for Duterte’

THE LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘I killed for Duterte’
‘I shot Alan Sy’

During his conversation with Sy in the shed, Lascañas recalled the Chinese asking him if he could be allowed to contact his wife to send over P3 million for provisions. He was referring to his Filipina wife, identified in reports as Jed Pilapil-Sy, who would be arrested by the police in a subsequent raid. 

Lascañas said that he did not disclose his real identity to Sy, and instead told him that he and the men who took them were New People’s Army rebels and friends of Duterte. 

Lascañas called up Buenaventura and informed him about Sy’s request and proposal. He was told “he would inform RRD, and he would call back later.” After a while, “Sonny called up and informed me that RRD rejected the proposal…because it could be a trap.”

Meanwhile, Lascañas told Sy they would wait for a response from higher-ups and put him back with his other companions. 

Sy then made a counteroffer: Release the two Chinese female chemists and he would pay P200 million in four installments over a one-month period. The money, which would come from Macau, would be coursed through Sy’s Chinese businessmen friends in Manila who had legitimate businesses. The rest of the group, Lascañas was told, would involve another deal, “but this time it could be more or less 100 million [pesos].”

Lascañas called up Buenaventura to relay the deal being proposed. “Sonny told me to wait for [a while] because he would inform RRD who is sitting beside him. Then RRD was on the phone. He (RRD) told me not to buy the proposed money deal of Alan Sy; that he (RRD) would take care of us regarding the issue of money, and that he had in his disposal [a] huge amount of intel funds. RRD told me to proceed with the agreed plan to clean up and dispose of the eleven Chinese nationals. I responded ‘Yes, Sir’ and it ended our conversation.” 

At past 2 am, Laud and Lascañas ordered their “force multipliers” to bring the Chinese to the mountainous area of Laud quarry. A common grave – more or less eight feet deep, about six feet long, and about four feet wide – was prepared for them. 

Lascañas said in his affidavit: “I shot first Alan Sy, twice in the head, using a .22 calibre pistol (ordinary ammo) with silencer. Then two of our force multipliers (RRA) men dragged the dead body of Alan Sy near to the mouth of the grave, tossed the dead body deep down to the common grave. Then, followed by the eight other Chinese nationals. I shot them alone with a pistol one by one twice in their heads, their heads on the ground.” The remaining two were shot by policeman Jim Tan, Lascañas said.

Cash reward, increased allowance

It was past 4 am when they left Laud quarry on board the same L-300 van and headed back to the Star Mart Caltex station. Lascañas called Buenaventura to report that everything was taken care of and that they were going home to rest. It was the first day of 2005.

Later in the afternoon, Lascañas was instructed to meet Buenaventura at about 3 pm in the same station and to board a Toyota 4×4 pick-up, “the service vehicle of RRD.” Lascañas took the front passenger seat, Jim Tan was at the back, with Buenaventura at the wheel.

Lascañas said he was handed P500,000 in cash. “According to Sonny, it was courtesy of RRD.” He thanked Buenaventura and split the money evenly – P150,000 for each of them and the same amount to policeman Jim Tan. “It was hating kapatid (equal sharing). I gave the remaining 50 thousand [pesos] to Jim Tan for him to take care of the two cops who were with us during the clean-up operations.”

The following day, Buenaventura called Lascañas and informed him that “RRD increased my monthly allowance to P50 thousand per month.” 

Duterte gov’t maintains Sy is just missing

Duterte and Villanueva would later maintain that mastermind Sy was still at large, while Lascañas attested in his affidavit that he was among those he killed after the New Year’s Eve raid. 

Recently, during President Duterte’s Talk to the People episode aired on September 14, 2021, Villanueva – now the head of PDEA national – identified the drug personalities whom they had surveilled in 2004 when he was with PDEA regional. He named “Allan Sy” as among those “still at large as of now.”

The name “Allan Sy,” also spelled as “Alan Sy,” resurfaced in the 2017 Acierto intelligence report that would refer to the 2004 Davao raid. It said “the vehicles and residence of a certain Allan Sy” were positively identified in the course of case build-up and the operation itself.

Rappler sought out then-PNP chief Edgard Aglipay and then-PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force chief Ricardo de Leon to try to independently corroborate the accounts about the raid. Aglipay said he does not remember details of the operation, while De Leon remembered only being briefed about the raid’s accomplishments, but not its operational details.

A retired police operative, however, told Rappler that Aglipay himself was in Davao at least before the raid. He was privy to the operation, and had in fact called up some PNP officers in Manila for assistance in identifying the Chinese targets, the same source told Rappler.

The operation, according to De Leon, was led by PDEA men under Villanueva, who was then based in Davao. In May 2020, when Duterte was already president, Villanueva was named the head of the entire PDEA.

PDEA chief’s account

Speaking during Duterte’s Talk To The People in September 2021, Villanueva narrated events related to the Davao raid – including how months-long surveillance of drug suspects by Davao operatives resulted in the dramatic December 31, 2004, raid. 

He also asserted that Yang’s name never came up in their case operation plans. The briefing was made in an apparent effort to refute claims in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing that linked Yang to an alleged drug personality. The claims were based on an intelligence report submitted in August 2017 by thenpolice senior superintendent Eduardo Acierto to higher-ups. 

Acierto, an anti-drug operative of close to 20 years, named Yang, alias “Dragon,” as a business associate of Johnson Co, a.k.a. Johnson Chua, of a drug trafficking syndicate bearing that same name. In October 2018, Duterte dismissed Yang’s alleged links to drugs, saying it wasn’t possible since China’s ambassador at the time, Zhao Jianhua, slept in Yang’s house.

Through his lawyer Raymond Fortun, Yang said the accusations about links to the drug trade were “without factual basis.” He also said that “former PDEA chief Aaron Aquino has already cleared me of the drug charges.” 

Acierto had accused Duterte and the PNP of ignoring his report and blocking investigations into Yang’s alleged drug links. Duterte retaliated and lambasted Acierto, accusing him of recycling drugs, engaging in corruption, and extorting from arrested Chinese drug suspects. Acierto has since retired and is said to be in hiding.

Naming drug personalities whom they were after at the time, Villanueva declared, “So ano ang allegation ni Police Senior Superintendent Acierto? Na si Michael Yang is involved sa clandestine laboratory ng Dumoy, Davao City…. Again, ito po ’yung personalities, wala po kayong makikitang Michael Yang diyan.” 

(So what was the allegation of Police Senior Superintendent Acierto? That Michael Yang is involved in the clandestine laboratory in Dumoy, Davao City…. Again, these are the personalities, and you won’t see any Michael Yang there.)

He named the likes of Johnson Chua, Alex Co, Philip Lam, Joey Co, and Allan Sy – all at large. But no Michael Yang.

Must Read

ANG LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘Inutusan akong pumatay ni Duterte’

ANG LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘Inutusan akong pumatay ni Duterte’
Who is Michael Yang again?

It will be recalled that Yang was appointed economic adviser to the President, according to two contracts previously obtained by Rappler from the Malacañang Records Office in November 2018. Duterte first denied this in an October 9, 2018, press conference, saying that it could not possibly be true “because he (Yang) is a Chinese.”

The controversy that Yang’s appointment generated prompted Malacañang to allow his contract as economic adviser to lapse in December 2018 – months after Duterte’s denial. Yang would also figure in a police intelligence report, just like Sy.

Yang had also figured in hearings conducted by the Senate blue ribbon committee in connection with questionable deals between the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management and Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, which supplied overpriced pandemic-related medical equipment. He acted as both guarantor and financier to this company that, despite low capitalization, managed to bag P10 billion worth of government contracts.

Yang told a House hearing on September 20 that he did not finance Pharmally and that his friends did. He acted as a mere bridge, but did not disclose who those friends were. Neither was he asked during the House hearing.

The Senate blue ribbon committee, for its part, asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to look into the financial transactions of Pharmally, suspecting that money laundering might have been involved.

Intelligence report confirms Lascañas’ account 

Lascañas’ account corroborated some of the information contained in Acierto’s earlier intelligence report. Both men did not know each other and had never met.

Acierto’s intel report mentioned the shabu laboratory, including its location in Barangay Dumoy.  Lascañas mentioned the area of Ulas “along the highway going to Toril” in Davao City, which is close by. 

Both Lascañas and Acierto also mentioned Michael Yang, the alleged employer of Sy. 

Lascañas’ affidavit described Yang as a “drug lord and the boss of Allan Sy, the manager of a shabu laboratory that was raided by PDEA in December 2004.” In his intel report, Acierto also mentioned leading operatives in a December 2004 raid that “led to the arrest of several personalities and death of six (6) foreign nationals and dismantling of the Clandestine Shabu Laboratory in Brgy. Dumoy, Davao City.”

Acierto’s report also said that, in the course of the case build-up and operation proper, the names of Yang and Johnson Chua (earlier mentioned by Villanueva) were initially unknown, but that they turned out to be business associates, along with Allan Sy. In the same intel report, Allan Sy – then tagged as missing – was identified as the “operations manager of Dumoy Clan-Lab,” short for clandestine lab. 

The name of Yang would resurface in 2016 after he was reported in the first quarter of the same year (during the campaign period) to have been in the company of Duterte. This was a red flag for Acierto, but Malacañang remained unconvinced about Yang’s alleged links to the drug trade. 

Villanueva admitted there was competition between PDEA and the PNP in 2002 until 2004 because the PNP did not want to recognize PDEA as the lead agency in the government’s fight against drugs. Because he and Acierto were classmates at the Philippine Military Academy, they tried to collaborate, but Villanueva said he was surprised by how Acierto wove a story about Yang’s involvement in the Dumoy lab.

On March 28, 2019, a still-incarcerated Senator Leila de Lima filed a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into the alleged involvement of Yang in the illegal drug trade. Nothing came out of it. In September 2021, she renewed calls to investigate Yang, his links to the drug trade, and his influence over President Duterte.

Despite persistent defense of Michael Yang by the Duterte administration, allegations about his supposed links to drugs, however, have persisted. – Rappler.com

Contributors to “THE LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘I KILLED FOR DUTERTE’” series: Lian Buan, Jodesz Gavilan, Glenda M. Gloria, Chay F. Hofileña, Pia Ranada, Rambo Talabong 

Read and watch the stories in this series: