After more than two years and an estimated 23,518 deaths under investigation, Rappler tells the story of the drug war from the eyes of the killers.
In early 2017, the Philippine National Police arrested members of a vigilante gang suspected of preying on drug suspects and criminals in Tondo, Manila's most densely populated and largest slum area. The group was a local chapter of the Confederate Sentinels Group (CSG). More than two years after the arrests, most of the men implicated remain free.
Rappler’s 6-month investigation shows strong indications the police were outsourcing extrajudicial killings to the same vigilante gang they accused of murder. According to individuals with knowledge of CSG Tondo Chapter 2’s activities, officials of the PNP coordinated with vigilantes, took credit for murders, and on occasion paid for assassinations in the name of the war against drugs.
This fourth of seven stories, published in installments during the course of this week, includes on-the-record testimony from community members as well as two of CSG’s self-confessed vigilantes. At their request, Rappler has changed or withheld their names for their own safety. Angel and Simon are not their real names.
“Recently," said the man looking into the lens, "I, with the members of CSG, endorsed the candidacy for president of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, because we know that he is the only leader with courage and compassion.”
The man in the video posted is Alvin Constantino, director of the Confederate Sentinels Group, or CSG. The clip was posted on his personal YouTube channel two days before the 2016 presidential elections.
In the video, Constantino announced that he had ordered his chief marshal to deploy marshal and medical units to then-mayor Duterte’s rally at Luneta Park. Constantino asked viewers to join him in electing “President Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on May 9 as president of our country.”
As the camera zoomed in, Constantino raised a fist inside a black leather riding glove, a red rubber baller band wrapped around the knuckles. The band read “Duterte.”
Alvin Kyle Constantino is a 37-year-old Air Force reserve officer with an affection for bandanas and mirrored sunglasses. His adult career was a mix of “a lot of jobs, too many,” but he now makes a living opening and running canteens.
Constantino registered the Confederate Sentinels Group Incorporated (CSG) in 2009 at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to work “within the purview of social welfare and development." Its main office, CSG’s national headquarters, was donated by Constantino's mother – his family ran apartment rentals – and was the base for CSG’s 4,000-strong volunteer organization.
He told Rappler that the group lived by the bible’s Matthew 25:35-46: “That part where Matthew says, ‘Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the strangers.’” The group was meant to be “protectors of the weak and needy,” offering medical missions, relief and rescue operations, and anti-criminality campaign programs.
While the group runs an annual fund-raising effort and receives occasional dues from its chapters, the most the CSG has ever raised in a year was P120,000 ($2,210)*, less than half the organization's actual spending. Constantino said his family provided the bulk of the CSG’s budget. They treat the organization as a family operation.
“That’s our offering to God," he said, "ourselves, our treasure, our time, our effort, to glorify his name.”
The CSG’s roughly thirty chapters are spread across the country. In 2016, there were two chapters in Tondo, Manila. One of them, Tondo Chapter 2, led by Ricardo Villamonte, alias Commander Maning, never progressed beyond “a probationary chapter.”
FOUNDER. Alvin Constantino, founder and director of officials of CSG Inc sits behind his desk at the national headquarters in Sitio Campo Uno, Quezon City. Photo by Carlo Gabuco
Constantino ran the CSG from a small room, much like the inner sanctums of police station commanders across the country. There was a single desk with the Philippine flag to the left and the CSG flag to the right at the center. There was a poster with the face of President Duterte taped to the door, a large bulletin board with the photos and names of CSG’s uniformed corps staff, and a gallery of photos with Constantino shaking hands with former police chief Ronald dela Rosa.
“I wanted to be in the military, or the PNP, but it didn’t happen,” Constantino said. “At least I can fulfill my dream.”
Gold-plated congratulations from generals across the hierarchy of the Philippine National Police took up much of the wall space. No less than five former directors of the Quezon City Police District had sent in plaques of appreciation, commendation, and recognition. A trophy for “Outstanding Non-Government Organization,” signed by then National Capital Region chief Oscar Albayalde, sat at a place of honor. The room could either be a shrine to the Philippine National Police, or to Alvin Constantino.
The CSG has maintained a relationship with the PNP since “around 2009.” They were eventually accredited as a volunteer organization, with memoranda of agreement signed with individual police districts, including Manila. Constantino described the CSG as an organization “helping the police maintain peace and order," with force multipliers part of the marshal units.
The force multipliers are urged to spend three to five hours a day, three times a week, on duty with the PNP. They patrol at their own expense. They wear the royal blue CSG shirt with the martial shield and the seal of the local police district on their right sleeve.
“When you become a volunteer organization accredited by the PNP,” said Constantino, “you wear a uniform, you have a PNP ID, and you’re with the PNP while you’re on duty, so you intimidate people who are about to commit petty crimes.”
Constantino was driving to the CSG headquarters on February 9, 2017 when he discovered a chapter of his organization had been accused by police of vigilante killings. Someone had sent him video of the press conference in Camp Crame, where then police chief Dela Rosa condemned the CSG for executing a 16-year-old minor named Charlie Saladaga.
“Everyone was confused,” Constantino said. “Some of the members said they were taking off their car plates, stripping off their CSG shirts, because they heard the CSG were being hunted down. That hurt me, because what did the CSG do wrong?”
Constantino said he had no knowledge of vigilante activities in Tondo. “The leadership of the CSG did not order them to kill.” (CSG Tondo Chapter 2's leader, Commander Maning, denied allegations he and his men participated in summary executions.)
On August 6, 2016, Constantino posted a photo that carried the caption, “a courtesy call by new members from CSG Tondo 2 Chapter headed by Capt Cdr. Ricardo Villamonte.”
In the photo, a group of more than a dozen people posed inside what appeared to be Constantino’s office at the CSG's national headquarters. Most of the men were wearing the organization’s royal blue uniform shirts, the CSG logo sewn over the heart, their names embroidered opposite.
Constantino did not deny that CSG Tondo Chapter 2 had once been part of the national network. He was unable to supply Rappler with an official list of Tondo Chapter 2’s members, claiming that “all data and files were removed” after the chapter failed to renew their membership. Even the handwritten applications were gone. Constantino said he had them all thrown out before May 2017, a few months after the PNP press conference.
Constantino insisted his office had little to do with the recruitment of Tondo Chapter 2’s members. According to Constantino, it was the Philippine National Police, not the CSG, that recruited the members from Village 105 in a rare shift in protocol.
It was the police, he said, who called to inform him that a new chapter from Tondo was “ready for orientation.”
According to Constantino, "it was Captain Jonar Cardozo" who recruited and recommended Commander Maning and his men to the CSG. “The police made the recommendation to me."
Police Inspector Jonar Cardozo, now the chief of the Vehicular Investigation Section of the Manila Police District, was once precinct commander of PCP Smokey Mountain, a few minutes' walk from the CSG outpost along Road 10 in Tondo.
The Manila Police District is divided into 11 police stations. MPD Police Station-1 along Raxabago Street in Tondo (PS-1), covering Village 105, had command supervision of PCPs – Police Community Precincts – located in Smokey Mountain, Pritil, Gagalangin, and Don Bosco.
It was Cardozo, according to Constantino, who personally introduced Commander Maning. He said the police offered assurances that the chapter’s men were “hardworking.”
“All I knew was that Commander Maning was a PNP force multiplier,” said Constantino. “I didn’t know what he did, I didn’t have much knowledge, but of course I had no reason to doubt him. He was with the PNP.”
Cardozo refused an interview with Rappler. He responded, however, to a few questions via text. He said "our role was to organize the different community sectors in forging a united front against crime, terrorism and other forms of lawlessness."
He also said that part of the job was "to form force multipliers through the empowerment of people towards community involvement." He did not deny he personally recruited members of CSG Tondo Chapter 2. "All who are willing for community service and public safety are welcome and invited" to join the CSG.
A 2017 newsletter published by the CSG and provided to Rappler listed Cardozo as an official consultant of the organization. A Facebook post from August 26, 2016 described "Capt Jonar Cardozo" as CSG's Manila District Chief.
Constantino said Cardozo remains a CSG member, although he is no longer a district chief after CSG Tondo was reduced to a single chapter after Chapter 2 lost its membership.
Commander Maning, in an interview with Rappler, described Cardozo as a kumpare – a close friend – and "the president of the CSG in Tondo."
IN USE. The CSG outpost is a short walk from the police precinct. The facade was repainted and is now in use by the local government. Photo by Carlo Gabuco
On September 13, 2016, Constantino posted the photograph of a small, one-story structure under construction just beneath an overpass along Road 10.
“Congratulations,” Constantino wrote, “to Cmdr Ricardo Villamonte for the establishment of CSG Eagle Base Satellite in Tondo 2 Chapter Manila District."
“They moved fast,” said Constantino. “That’s what I noticed about Tondo 2. They moved fast, although I couldn’t ask where they got their money. They could have solicited, but they didn’t get their money from us. Suddenly they had their own headquarters.”
Commander Maning said it wasn't the members of CSG Tondo 2 Chapter who elected him as their leader. He said instead he was voted in by "Cardozo and the rest."
In Commander Maning's view, both Constantino and Cardozo were part of the recruitment of CSG Tondo 2 Chapter, although it was Cardozo he met first when the police officer was assigned to PCP Smokey Mountain.
Commander Maning said Cardozo told him that he was in contact with Constantino, and that Constantino was looking to organize the CSG in Tondo. "Then [Constantino] came down here."
"He was our founder," said Commander Maning. "Then he disappeared and abandoned us."
Constantino denied this in an earlier interview. By his reckoning, Cardozo came to him with a new CSG chapter ready for orientation. Constantino said his own presence was mostly “for morale,” and that he only appeared when invited. Rappler's sources from inside CSG Tondo 2 Chapter also said Constantino was present for official events only. They were unsure if he was aware of the vigilante activities they claimed were ongoing under Commander Maning's supervision.
Constantino insisted it was the police that had direct command and training supervision over every one of the CSG’s marshal units, along with other force multiplier units in the country. (It is a characterization that former PNP chief Dela Rosa disagreed with. He told Rappler “it is the village hall that has control” over force multipliers.)
“So the police give the instructions,” Constantino said. “My people just do what they’re told, because those are uniformed personnel.”
Constantino said he saw Commander Maning join the police on patrols, ride in mobile units, and direct traffic. Photos posted publicly showed Cardozo, together with CSG Tondo Chapter 2 members, providing security to the public and joining medical missions.
Cardozo, in his messages to Rappler, said that there were sometimes problems with force multipliers "when they are left on their own and they're not guided, especially if they're no longer active or there are no PNP members going there."
Asked directly over text on Wednesday, October 3, if he agreed with the PNP's announcement that CSG Tondo Chapter 2 was a vigilante group, Cardozo refused to answer.
"No comment," he said, "God bless." – Rappler.com
Editor's Note: Alvin Constantino, in a text message, wanted to withdraw what was said in more than an hour's interview, saying, he thought the story would be about the CSG and its various humanitarian projects, and not about ties with the Philippine National Police. We told him it is not our policy to allow it, given public interest issues and clear questions during the interview, which was recorded on video.
All quotes in Filipino have been translated into English. Rappler also sought an interview with former National Capital Region Police Office head and now PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde, who was unavailable. At the time of publication, Manila Police District Director Joel Coronel had yet to send a response.
*$1 = P54