MANILA, Philippines — Leadership of the national police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency dismissed initial police reports of a botched “buy-bust” operation that led to what the national police initially called a “misencounter shooting” that left four people dead.
To recall, personnel of the PDEA and the Philippine National Police clashed outside the Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Wednesday night.
Speaking at a joint press conference Thursday evening, Police Gen. Debold Sinas, PNP chief, and PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva both asserted that there was coordination on both sides of the operation but said it was too early in the joint investigation to draw any conclusions.
“We’re not going to speculate on what happened. That is why we collected the cellphones of both parties, so we know where they’re coming from. We’re going to make an analytic investigation. As far as those cellphones are concerned, we still do not know what was happening at the time,” Villanueva said.
“What we can tell you is that both the PDEA and PNP were conducting legitimate operations…both of them were doing their jobs. So that’s what we’re working on. Right now, it’s too raw for us to be making a statement. Right now, we are mourning. We cannot tell who was doing what, because we don’t have the evidence. Give us time to process the evidence,” he also said.
The shootout left two police officers, a PDEA agent and an informant dead.
They added that the ten police officers, and seven drug enforcement agents involved in the shootout are now “restricted” at the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which has been designated to head the joint investigation on the incident.
‘We won’t cover for our people’
For the duration of the press briefing, the two heads deflected questions from reporters, urging the public to let the investigation run its course first.
Asked who the target of the operation was, both Sinas and Villanueva opted not to comment. “We cannot divulge the names of the people,” Villanueva said.
The two also could not disclose where the drug bust money and the actual drugs went during the operation, or if an exchange even occurred in the first place.
“Don’t worry. We won’t cover for our people. This is why we’re doing this jointly…If we will side with our people, the situation might just get worse. We’re here to harmonize our solid relationship. This incident was a very unfortunate one. It happens, and that’s why we have to investigate,” Sinas said in Filipino for his part.
“We’ll look at all angles. Maybe you can even text us other suggestions,” Villanueva said. He also confirmed a video circulating on social media that one PDEA personnel was hiding in a bathroom at the time of the operation.
According to a “sketchy report” from the Batasan Police Station 6, personnel of the Quezon City Police District’s Detective Special Operations Unit conducted a buy-bust operation they described as having “complete coordinations and necessary papers.”
“During the buy-bust operation the PNP personnel involved without their knowledge the people they were transacting are PDEA agents,” the report read. “Allegedly during the [confrontations], PDEA agents first engaged to shot towards the PNP personnel leaving no option to fight back against them resulted [in] series of injuries to both parties.”
Sinas at the press briefing, though, disavowed the contents of the spot report, saying they no longer applied. “That was only one side. Let’s give time for the investigation,” he said.
What do the PNP’s rules say?
Both the PNP and the PDEA said their personnel observed complete compliance to all procedures during the botched operation.
According to the PNP’s Revised Operational Procedures, which is a public document, “PNP units, prior to any anti-drug operations shall, as far as practicable, coordinate with the PDEA.”
Rule 37, which touches on the rules governing anti-illegal drug operations, reads:
In any case, the PNP anti-drug units shall coordinate/ inform the PDEA of the anti-drug operation within 24-hours from the time of the actual custody of the suspects or seizure of said drugs and substances as well as paraphernalia and transport equipment used in illegal activities involving such drugs and/or substances and shall regularly update the PDEA on the status of the cases involving the said anti-drug operation.
Rule 7.2 of the police manual also directs officers to “first issue a verbal warning” before resorting to force, but also says that failure to give a verbal warning is excusable “where threat to life or property is already imminent” and cops are given no choice.
Rules 7.4 and 7.5 of the PNP Operational Procedures hold that:
“When suspect is violent or threatening, and that less physical measures have been tried and deemed inappropriate, a more extreme, but non-deadly measure can be used such as baton/truncheon, pepper spray, stun gun and other nonlethal weapon to bring the suspect under control, or effect an arrest.
During confrontation with an armed offender, only such necessary and reasonable force should be applied as would be sufficient to overcome the resistance put up by the offender; subdue the clear and imminent danger posed by him; or to justify the force/act under the principles of self-defense, defense of relative, or defense of stranger.”
NCRPO chief looking at ‘sell-bust’ angle
Speaking in an interview over ABS-CBN earlier on Thursday, Police Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao, who heads the National Capital Region Police Office, said that the personnel involved could have carried out a “sell-bust.”
A sell-bust, where state forces pose as drug dealers to arrest any customers is illegal.
“Someone has to answer for this, whoever conducted a sell-bust,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.
“Because a sell-bust, initially, is really prohibited. All cases, especially if it’s an instigated one, that’s not allowed, especially when it comes to drugs. So that’s the angle we’re looking at; who has liability between the two groups,” he also said.
Asked how the public should label the incident, whether a misencounter shooting or a friendly fire incident, Villanueva at the press briefing Thursday said: “I don’t know how to call it. Maybe what happened is an unfortunate incident.”