More questions than answers: PDEA, PNP in the dark on misencounter

    The morning after. NBI personnel gather evidence inside and around a van parked in front of a fastfood joint on Commonwealth Ave., reportedly used by PDEA agents in a buy-bust operation that turned into a deadly shootout with QCPD cops on Wednesday night. PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR

    PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Wilkins Villanueva yesterday said both agencies have agreed to jointly probe the shootout outside the Ever Gotesco mall in Quezon City on Wednesday night that left two Quezon City policemen, a PDEA agent, and a PDEA informant dead and four others injured.

    Sinas and Wilkins, in a press conference at Camp Crame, said both agencies made prior coordination on buy-bust operations they were conducting but admitted they have no exact information on “what went wrong and what was supposed to have been done,” raising more questions than answers on the shootout that endangered the lives of mall goers and passersby on Commonwealth Ave. for more than two hours.

    The two admitted the incident was a misencounter but sidestepped questions on who was the target or targets of their operations, the amount of illegal drugs involved, where was the buy-bust money, and the number of agents and cops involved, among others.

    Even the identities of the fatalities and the injured were not divulged. They did not discount the possibility that they were manipulated by a drug syndicate.

    Videos of the shootout went viral on Wednesday night, with one showing PDEA agents lying face down on the curb outside a fastfood joint. Other videos posted on social media showed mall goers cowering in fear.

    President Duterte committed to pursue truth and justice in the shootout and urged both the PNP and the PDEA to keep calm while a probe is being held.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President just finished recording his weekly “Talk to the People” public address on Wednesday night when he learned of the incident.

    Roque said Duterte was both sad and concerned that police and PDEA forces were involved.

    “He was saddened. ‘It is my policemen and PDEA (agents) who died,’ then he said ‘we need to find out what happened. Tell them to calm down and there will be a thorough investigation,” Roque said in a radio interview.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has ordered the NBI to conduct a parallel probe on the misencounter that will be “separate and distinct from the probe to be conducted by an ad hoc joint PDEA-PNP board of inquiry earlier announced by PNP Chief Debold Sinas.”

    Sinas had earlier said that he has tasked the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to investigate the shootout that started at 6 p.m.

    Reps. Robert Ace Barbers and Precious Hipolito-Castelo, along with Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, said they will conduct inquiries into the shootout.

    Sen. Risa Hontiveros slammed the apparent failure of intelligence and lack of coordination between the PNP and PDEA that resulted into the “unfortunate” incident.

    “There was dramatic lack of coordination between the PNP and PDEA. Someone somewhere must have been grossly negligent. Ang laki ng intelligence funds nila pareho pero ganyan ang nangyari,” Hontiveros said, adding that for this year the PNP has an intelligence funds of P865 million and the PDEA P500 million.

    In a joint statement, the PNP and PDEA said: “With the main objective to have fairness and justice in finding out what transpired before, during and after the incident where truth is the end goal, both the PNP and PDEA have agreed to form a Board of Inquiry composed of both agency representatives with probity and integrity.”

    They said probers are collecting pieces of evidence and autopsies are being conducted on the remains of the slain personnel. Firearms were also taken into custody while cellphones and other gadgets of the personnel involved will undergo forensic examination.

    “We therefore appeal to the public to let the investigation take its course first before anyone makes unfounded and baseless claims without the required strength of evidence.

    We will speak only on the basis of verified facts, not on mere speculations or conjectures,” the statement added.

    The two sides assured the public that criminal charges will be filed against those who will be found to have violated laws, rules and regulations.

    While acknowledging the incident has caused a temporary setback in the war on illegal drugs, the PNP and PDEA said they will “remain constantly working together to crush the real enemy in this regard – illegal drugs.”

    Sinas and Villanueva said QC cops and PDEA operatives started their respective operations somewhere else but ended up at the mall vicinity later on.

    “That is what we are trying to find out. We are wondering what happened in the operation. They started in other areas and they ended up meeting there,” said Sinas.

    Villanueva described the incident as one of the “loneliest days” as far as the history of drug law enforcement is concerned. He said operatives of the two agencies were “performing duties” at the time.

    “Whoever is at fault, whether it’s from PNP or PDEA, we will file a case against them and if evidence warrant, we will go for it. We will not cover up anything, we will spare no one,” added Sinas.

    Villanueva, a retired police officer who spent many years with PDEA fighting illegal drugs, said they are collating the statements of PDEA and PNP personnel and compare their versions of what really happened.

    “Right now, it is very raw that we can’t even make any (further) statement about what happened as far as the operation is concerned,” said Villanueva.

    Vilanueva assured the probe won’t be railroaded, saying he is staking his career on this one.

    “I am not staking my name just to come up with a scenario that is not true. Whoever should be held accountable will be held accountable. We are dedicating this to the casualties on both sides,” he said.

    Villanueva said the PDEA and PNP cannot afford to be involved in a fight because of the incident.

    “Now is the time where the relationship of the police and PDEA should be stronger because syndicates are just watching us and causing us to fight each other,” he said.

    Barbers said that if the claims of both police and PDEA are true that their respective anti-drug operations were legitimate, there should have been no firefight “because there should be coordination between them as required under sec 86 of RA 9165 (Dangerous Drugs Act) before any legitimate anti-drug operation can be carried out.”

    Barbers said the presence of high-ranking police officers in the alleged uncoordinated buy-bust “is another suspicious angle that we want to investigate.” He did not identify the officers.

    Castelo, who is set to file a resolution for a House inquiry into the “misencounter” in her district, said it would focus “on the adequacy or inadequacy of the law, Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”

    Dela Rosa said the Senate hearing will get to the bottom of the incident so they can craft measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, pushed for the passage of a measure he filed in July 2019 seeking the creation of the Presidential Drug Enforcement Agency that will oversee all drug-related matters. – With Ashzel Hachero, Raymond Africa, Jocelyn Montemayor and Wendell Vigilia