By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Five police generals, all graduates of Philippine Military Academy (PMA), were relieved of their posts and ordered investigated after being tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as involved in illegal drugs.
The five are retired Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo; retired Chief Supt. Vicente Loot, now mayor of Daanbantayan, Cebu province; Chief Supt. Joel Pagdilao, who until July 4 was head of the National Capital Region Police Office; Chief Supt. Edgardo Tinio, former Quezon City Police District director; and Chief Supt. Bernardo Diaz, former Western Visayas (Region 11) director who is temporarily assigned at the Camp Crame headquarters.
Duterte specifically referred to Garbo as “protector of drug syndicates.”
Garbo, a close ally of defeated presidential candidate Mar Roxas, was named as one of the so-called “Novotel Generals” seen meeting at the Novotel Araneta Center owned by the Roxas’ family during the last election campaign period.
All the five members of the PNP strongly denied the allegations against them, insisting that the President was merely fed the wrong information.
Speaking during the commemoration of the Philippine Air Force’s 69th anniversary at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Duterte said he was compelled by his sense of duty to tell everything, especially the policemen who are involved in drugs, one way or another contributing to the deterioration of the law and order of the country.
“Certainly I would expect the police commission to do their thing. Investigate this and do not give me a zarzuela (a farce). Look for the truth,” he said.
He ordered the three active officials to report to Director General Ronald de la Rosa, the newly appointed head of the 150,000-strong PNP.
De la Rosa said he would be investigating the active officials and expected them to appear before him. “I will talk to them and I will listen to their explanation,” he said.
De la Rosa acknowledged he cannot compel the two retired PNP officials to report to him. But the PNP can investigate and if there was evidence against them, charges would be pursued.
Duterte said the involvement of the five police generals in illegal drugs by coddling drug lords has been brought up many times.
“Even when I was mayor of Davao, their names have been mentioned,” said Duterte who was Davao City Mayor for 22 years before he got elected to the country’s highest post.
The tough-talking mayor said he was so disappointed that police officers who trained and studied at the people’s expense turned to the illicit drug trade.
“It’s saddening because the state funded their education, you gave them uniform, socks, and (money). By any language, it is indeed treason,” said Duterte.
He also said it was an honor to join the service, whether the Philippine National Police Academy or the Philippine Military Academy, at the expense of public money. And it hurt that the taxpayers’ money was spent to commit crimes, he added.
The President said it was not his practice as a politician to humiliate anyone. But he said he had a “sacred obligation to the Filipino people.”
“By my oath of office, I have to tell you the truth,” he said.
He then admitted it would take longer than his promised six months to wipe out crime, but said the campaign against drugs would continue.
Returning Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he had no doubt about the validity of Duterte’s charges against the five PNP officials.
In a text message, Lacson said he had heard the same information about two of the police officials that the President mentioned from his former officers in the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. He did not name the two.
“All I’m saying is, since the President himself mentioned those two names among the five, he must have good basis, especially if he had a different source,” said Lacson, who served as PNP chief during the time of former President, now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
He noted that “the Commander in Chief, more than anybody in this country is in the best position to have access to all these vital and sensitive information and I have no reason to doubt or question its validity.”
Incoming Senate President Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III commended the presidential move. “Wow. Great job by the President,” said Pimentel.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III said Duterte’s intelligence information “must be A-1 for him to have done that.”
But Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, a former Army colonel, warned that those accused “should not be subjected to trial by publicity because the children and family who are not involved are affected.”
Shelving his prepared speech, Duterte slammed police personnel against involving themselves in criminal activities and reiterated his desire for the military to get involved in the battle against illegal drugs.
“It’s going to be a dirty fight, it’s going to be a bloody fight, I am not apologizing for it,” he said.
“And may I tell everyone, even the international community, all accidents, cases, any cases under the Revised Penal Code, in the fulfillment of your duties as public authority that is mine, mine and mine alone. I assume full legal responsibility for it,” he further stated.
“I assume full legal responsibility,” he stressed.
At the same time, Duterte clarified his earlier order for civilians to “shoot to kill” drug offenders.
“When I say shoot to kill, it’s (for) when there is a fight that will result in your demise. Shoot first, but only if you think your life is in danger,” he clarified.
“When I say there is reward (for neutralizing drug dealers) dead or alive, there are laws to be observed before you do it. I just want you to be brave, not to be afraid to do your work,” the President said Duterte said he had forewarned those involved in illegal drugs all throughout the campaign, reiterating that he will not hesitate to kill all those involved.
“I have been warning everybody: at the end of my speeches, when I was campaigning for the presidency, I always end it by saying, ‘Do not destroy my country because I will kill you. Do not destroy the young people of this country because I will kill you.’ If these warnings were not enough, I don’t know what will happen next,” he said.
He stressed the drug menace has affected national security and called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to join the fight against illegal drugs.
“I am lucky because President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo during her watch raised the level of the drug problem as a national security threat and therefore paving the way for me to ask the Armed Forces of the Philippines … to help me in the campaign,” he added.
In the same speech, Duterte defended his plan to reintroduce the death penalty, saying that this will not deter criminality but was a form of retribution. He also vowed to protect law enforcement officers who are dedicated to their duty.
The President also threatened to reveal the names of other government officials who were involved in the illegal drug trade, but said he was still validating the information he received.
Tinio, one of the retired police generals named by Duterte, said he would use his remaining months in service by proving that he was not “a plague on society.”
“I still have one year and six months in service. I plan to clear my name,” he told radio dzBB.
In a separate interview with GMA News, he said being named a protector of the drug trade was unfair because he was not given due process.
“I was caught unaware, flatfooted. It’s sad that the President has been given the wrong information,” he added.
On the other hand, Diaz told radio dzMM that he might have been the victim of mistaken identity. He said he hated illegal drugs because a close relative of his was once lured into the drug trade.
Loot said he was “a victim of propaganda” because of his family’s involvement in politics.
More than 20 people have been killed in reported encounters with the police purportedly in connection with the war against drugs since the inauguration of the Duterte administration on June 30.