Aguirre: Duterte’s drug war memo bars NBI from investigating Faeldon

Lian Buan

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Aguirre: Duterte’s drug war memo bars NBI from investigating Faeldon
'Mag-aral muna kayo,' Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II tells senators criticizing the DOJ panel's decision to dismiss the complaint against former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon stemming from a P6.4-billion shabu shipment

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s order naming the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the “sole agency” in charge of anti-drug operations has barred the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from investigating former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon in relation to the P6.4-billion shabu shipment.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II offered this explanation in a news conference on Friday, November 24, in response to questions on whether the DOJ could be more proactive in building a case against Faeldon through the NBI, which it oversees.

A DOJ panel had earlier cleared Faeldon and other Customs officials of involvement in the shabu smuggling case, which drew strong criticism from senators who conducted hearings into the smuggling incident. The panel had said that it based its decision on evidence – or lack thereof – provided by complainant PDEA.

Aguirre said he could not involve the NBI due to Duterte’s memorandum issued on October 13, assigning PDEA as the sole agency in drug-related operations.

At that time, di ba inalisan na kami ng NBI ng right to engage in drugs, dahil PDEA na (At that time, wasn’t it that the NBI was stripped of the right to engage in drugs, because it’s now the PDEA)?” he said.

An indignant justice chief said the DOJ panel did not have any obligation to hunt for evidence related to Faeldon’s case as based on the President’s order,  PDEA was responsible for this.

Hindi na katungkulan ng panel ‘yan. Ang dapat mag-submit ng ebidensiya para magkaroon ng probable cause ay ‘yung complainant. Walang obligation ang panel. Ang question, paano nakalusot, sabihin mo kung paano, kayo ang mag-submit ng ebidensya,” Aguirre said.

(That’s no longer the panel’s obligation, it’s the complainant who should submit evidence to establish probable cause. If the question is how these people were able to get away with it, then tell us how, submit evidence.)

NBI’s powers

In other high-profile cases, however, Aguirre has resorted to his and the NBI’s powers “to undertake the investigation of any crime when public interest so requires.” NBI is an attached agency under the DOJ.

But in the drug shipment issue, Aguirre said his hands were tied.

Duterte’s memorandum said that while “it shall not mean to be a diminution of the investigative powers of the NBI, the Philippine National Police (PNP) on all crimes as provided for in their respective organic laws, the said law specifically provides that when the investigation being conducted by the NBI, PNP or any ad hoc anti-drug task force is found to be a violation of any of the provisions of this Act, the PDEA shall be the lead agency.”

Aguirre said he can involve the NBI if Duterte issues a new memorandum bringing them back into the drug war operations. “Puwede ako mag-DO (Department Order) ulit, but now no more (I can sign a Department Order again, but now no more),” he said.

When asked, the justice chief said the President’s pronouncement on reinstating the PNP to the drug war does not automatically mean the same for the NBI.

Prior to the presidential memo, the NBI  filed a complaint before the DOJ in August but only against whistleblower Mark Taguba, and Kenneth Dong and other Chinese middlemen. These are the same individuals eventually indicted by the DOJ panel for importing illegal drugs.

‘Mag-aral muna kayo’ 

The justice chief also urged senators to “study first” before slamming the DOJ panel. Aguirre was responding to criticisms from several senators, including Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, that the dismissal of the complaint against Faeldon and other Customs official were unbelievable.  

Kayo, bago kayo bumukambibig ‘yung mga senador divan, mag-aral muna kayo (You, before you open your mouth, those senators, study first),” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the PDEA can file a petition for review or a motion for reconsideration with the DOJ panel if it is dissatisfied with the findings.

He also said he was willing to be questioned by senators regarding the DOJ findings, and expressed confidence that he would be able to justify them.

Aguirre said the critics should first study how prosecution works. The members of the panel – Assistant State Prosecutors Aristotle Reyes and Joann Garcia – joined his press briefing.

In its resolution, the panel hit the PDEA for not clearly stating the allegations against the Customs officials, therefore meriting a dismissal.

“The complaint of the PDEA is only 23 pages. We know that the Senate conducted a very exhaustive hearing, however, much of the evidence and testimonies submitted to the Senate were not given or submitted before our panel so…we can only judge based on evidence submitted to us,” Garcia said.

Aguirre also insisted the panel worked independently, and that he could only participate once the case is put on automatic review, which can begin only after the resolution becomes final.  – 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.