Albayalde accused of blocking dismissal of subordinate 'ninja cops'

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(From L-R) PDEA chief Aaron Aquino, PNP Chief General Oscar Albayalde, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 10) — The country's top cop is accused of blocking the dismissal of 13 policemen over an irregular drug raid in Pampanga that happened when he was provincial police chief in 2013.

During Tuesday's Senate hearing on "ninja cops" or policemen involved in drugs, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Oscar Albayalde admitted that he called then Central Luzon regional police director Aaron Aquino in 2016 to ask about the status of his subordinates' case.

Aquino confirmed the call and said Albayalde asked him to review the cops' pending dismissal.

"Sinabi niya [Albayalde] sa akin, 'Sir for the meantime baka pwedeng ipareview niyo muna yan at ipacheck kasi gusto kong malaman kung ano yung talagang magiging result ng imbestigasyon na yan," Aquino recalled, noting that the call was sometime between July and December 2016. During this time, both of them were regional police directors – Aquino in Central Luzon and Albayalde in Metro Manila.

[Translation: Albayalde told me, 'Sir please review that first and have it checked because I want to know what would come out of that investigation.]

Aquino, who is now the country's chief drug buster, said he asked why Albayalde was interested in the case.

Kasi Sir mga tao ko 'yan (Because those are my men)," Aquino recalled Albayalde as saying.

READ: 13 ‘drug recycling’ policemen spared from dismissal

'Do not implement dismissal order'

Aquino told the same story during a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who was then chief of the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

Magalong, however, said Albayalde asked for more than just a review of the case. He stressed that Albayalde specifically asked Aquino not to implement the cops' dismissal order.

"Nasabi niya na sa akin at inulit niya kay Presidente na tinawagan siya ni General Albayalde at sinasabi sa kanya na 'wag iimplement 'yung order," Magalong said.

[Translation: He told me and he said it again to the President that General Albayalde called him to ask him not to implement the order.]

Aquino instead reassigned the Pampanga policemen to Mindanao to show that an action had been done on the matter, Magalong said.

Prior to this revelation, senators quizzed Aquino on why he did not act on the dismissal order when he assumed leadership of the regional police in June 2016. The order was dated November 2014 but was only served to the policemen in March 2016 – a delay that was also heavily criticized by the lawmakers.

At one point during the hearing, Magalong appealed to Aquino to tell the truth.

"I know, Aaron you are in a tight situation. I'm also in a tight situation. We’re thinking about the safety of our family. We’re thinking about our own safety. Pero (But) this is a fight between right and wrong," Magalong said.

"Bakit hindi mo sabihin kung ano yung sinabi mo sakin? Sinong kumausap sa 'yo (Why don't you disclose what you told me? Who talked you out of it)?" Magalong said. It was only after Magalong's words that Aquino revealed Albayalde's request.

Gordon to Albayalde: Why call?

Gordon said it was wrong for Albayalde to call Aquino while a probe was ongoing.

"When something is under investigation, you don’t call somebody," Gordon said, adding that the call could be interpreted as an attempt to support his former officers.

During the hearing, Albayalde explained that he called Aquino only to ask about the status of his men's case, emphasizing that he had no intention of influencing the results of the investigation.

"Yes, I asked for the status, only for the status. I could not possibly influence an RD or an upperclass(man). I'm just the RD, Acting RD of NCRPO (National Capital Regional Police Office) then," Albayalde said.

"Never at one time that I asked for any favor. I was asking for the status. That’s the very reason why Gen. Aaron here ordered for the review of the case, which is I think normal in the process of the PNP," the country's top cop added.

He said he did not monitor the case after that 2016 phone call. He also hit back at Magalong, saying the former cop should have "done everything with all his power, with all his authority" to secure the cops' dimissal when he was CIDG chief.

Albayalde, speaking to CNN Philippines later in the day, said that if his involvement in the case was indeed proven, then he should have been charged years back.

"I was made to float for seven months. Ang tanong ko (my question is), why was I not charged for anything, when he (Magalong) had all the power, he had all the influence, and he had all the time?" Albayalde told CNN Philippines' Politics As Usual.

Albayalde stressed he does not regret his phone call to Aquino, adding he was only doing the cops' families a favor.

"Why should I regret it? I did not ask for anything. That is just a favor for all the families. Remember these are families, these policemen have families also," the police chief noted.

The controversy mars Albayalde's retirement from police service in November.

The controversial raid

The Senate's joint committee investigation revealed the names of 13 alleged "ninja cops" who faced drug charges for a November 2013 drug raid, where they 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.

Gordon said the cops mishandled the operation, and that there was a bigger haul other than the 30-kilo shabu the cops had declared. Magalong said the street price of shabu dropped after the raid, which suggested the seized drugs were recycled and peddled.

Gordon agreed with Magalong, saying Albayalde has command responsibility over the botched operation.

"At the very least, he (Albayalde) was very, very negligent. At the most, he was extremely, not looking at the ball," Gordon said. He stressed that Albayalde is possibly involved in the "coverup."

The Pampanga cops managed to have their punishment downgraded, from dismissal to a one-rank demotion after filing an appeal. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has ordered a review of their case, which he targets to resolve in a month's time.

Albayalde, for his part, said erring cops should face criminal cases and be "dismissed from service" if they are indeed found guilty.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola contributed to this report