PDEA chief admits he cowered as family received threats after 'ninja cops' testimony

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PDEA chief Director General Aaron Aquino now confirms what he earlier told senators and even President Rodrigo Duterte: PNP chief General Oscar Albayalde requested him in 2016 not to dismiss 13 Pampanga policemen over an irregular drug raid.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 3) — "Sir, pinaghahandaan nila ang pamilya mo (Sir, they are preparing to attack your family)."

These words made Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Director General Aaron Aquino think twice about testifying against "ninja" or drug-linked cops, the country's top drug buster himself said in a Senate hearing on Thursday.

He said he "literally broke down into small pieces" upon hearing from a friend that "some personalities," whom he did not name, are planning to go after his family.

He said this is the reason he was was in "deep pressure and quandary" during the Senate's joint committee hearing last Tuesday.

"I was thinking of my family who are now put in much deeper danger," Aquino said, reading a prepared statement.

"I was asking myself, is this fight worth it? Why am I gambling the safety of my family?" he recalled, noting that his youngest child is just 12 years old.

He added that the recall of his police escorts made him feel "so helpless and defeated." He got back his security detail on September 26 at President Rodrigo Duterte's order. The cops were withdrawn by the Philippine National Police ostensibly in preparation for the country's hosting of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in November.

PNP Chief General Oscar Albayalde said the pullout of the security detail had nothing to do with Aquino's revalations against "ninja cops," including the persistence of their drug recycling and other illegal operations.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who was then head of the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, told CNN Philippines on Wednesday he has been receiving death threats since last week, when he testified at the Senate against "ninja cops."

Change of tune

Right after Tuesday's hearing, Senator Richard Gordon told reporters he got a bit "disappointed" that Aquino's statements "softened."

Taking the witness stand that day, Aquino said Albayalde called him in 2016 to review the pending dismissal of 13 Pampanga policemen involved in an irregular drug sting in 2013. At that time, Aquino was Central Luzon regional police director. The botched operation happened under Albayalde's watch as provincial police chief of Pampanga.

Magalong during the same hearing revealed that Albayalde did not just ask for a review of the case, but also requested Aquino not to dismiss the cops. Aquino finally confirmed this on Thursday.

READ: Albayalde accused of blocking dismissal of subordinate 'ninja cops'

He said that while it's true that Albayalde asked him about the status of the Pampanga policemen, "you also added during the same call request, 'Sir, baka pwede ‘wag mo munang iimplement ang order.'"

Aquino said he asked why Albayalde was interested in the case, and the top cop, who was then Metro Manila police chief during the time of the call, said, "Kasi mga tao ko sila (Because they are my men)." Aquino said he also made this revelation in a recent meeting with Duterte.

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson asked Aquino of the cops' non-dismissal meant he acceded to Albayalde's request. Aquino said he was just swamped with work and decided to reassign the accused cops to Mindanao.

Albayalde maintains innocence

Albayalde maintained he had no intention of influencing any disciplinary action against his men. He added that the cops' motion for reconsideration was already "partially granted" prior to Aquino's takeover as head of Central Luzon police in June 2016.

"Maliwanag po dito na hindi naimpluwensyahan si Gen. Aquino (It is clear Gen. Aquino was not influenced)," Albayalde said, adding that the decision has been made, "whether I called or not."

He also revealed that he himself was relieved and placed under floating status for seven months to pave the way for the ongoing investigation on his men.

During a November 2013 raid, 13 of Albayalde's subordinate cops supposedly kept 160 kilograms of shabu for themselves and got P50 million and new SUVs in exchange for the freedom of Chinese drug trafficker Johnson Lee. They had a dismissal order dated November 2014 but was only served to the policemen in March 2016 – a delay that was also heavily criticized by the lawmakers. Their punishment was eventually downgraded to a one-rank demotion.

READ: Gordon: Cops ‘mishandled’ 2013 Pampanga drug raid

They are now under floating status while Albayalde's fate hangs in the balance. President Rodrigo Duterte said he will wait for the Senate to wrap up its probe before taking action on Albayalde and his subordinate cops. The President said that as of now, Albayalde’s “only link” to the erring cops was that he happened to be Pampanga’s provincial director when the questionable drug raid happened.