By Malou Mangahas and Karol Ilagan
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
THERE’S OBVIOUSLY big money in the illegal-drug trade, so much so that it has made criminals even out of some members of the police force – a fact that authorities themselves have often acknowledged. And that may be why the Duterte administration has decided to throw money on the table as well in its bid to rid the police of so-called “ninja cops,” even as it promises to deliver cash to police officers and citizens who participate in its war against drugs.
As explained by police officials in various media interviews, “ninja cops” are police officers who have gotten involved in the drug trade either by taking bribes from drug lords or by “recycling” the prohibited substances seized in drug busts and selling these themselves.
In his announcement a fortnight ago of a P2-million reward for those who would expose these “ninja cops,” President Rodrigo R. Duterte also described such police officers as those “who are protecting the drug syndicates.”
But the multi-million-peso offer was hardly the government’s first monetary weapon in its much-ballyhooed drug war. Indeed, even as a presumptive president, Duterte had already dangled cash rewards for those who would help him in his fight against drugs. And then just last Aug. 3, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) that is chaired by the President issued Regulation No. 1 on “Operation: Lawmen” to formalize his oral offers with a table of rewards pegged on the volume of drugs that policemen and police units will confiscate.
The two big questions here are: Where will the government get the funds to pay cash rewards, and is the process compliant with budget and audit rules?
For sure, the reward amounts bandied about by Duterte and now the DDB — the nation’s policy and strategy body that oversees the implementation of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 — suggest overflowing coffers.
For instance, at a press conference in Davao City on May 31, 2016 (or a month before he could take his oath as president) Duterte had offered this table of rewards: “P50,000 will be the bounty for a small-time drug pusher, P1 million for a ‘supervisor’ or a ‘manager’ drug pusher, and P3 million for big-time drug lords.”
Dead or alive
News reports also quoted Duterte as saying that the bounty “is good whether the drug suspect is dead or alive,” adding though that killing “must be…within the bounds of the law.”
Four days later, at a grand thanksgiving party held for him at Davao City’s Crocodile Park, Duterte again offered cash rewards. The bounty was still the same for the small-time players or whom he referred to as “pitsi-pitsi”: P50,000. But someone who killed a drug lord would now have P5 million to look forward to, and “4.999 million” pesos if the drug lord were captured alive. A dead drug distributor, meanwhile, meant a reward of P3 million, and a live one “2.999 million” pesos.
Duterte went on to say that the money would be coming from his unspent campaign funds, which he said would be enough to cover “200 persons na patayin nila (that they kill).” Days earlier, his supporters had announced they were giving back unspent campaign money to the donors; Duterte, however, now said that doing so would be rude.
Elective candidates are required by the Commission on Elections to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures or SOCE. In the event of unspent or excess campaign donations, the Bureau of Internal Revenue has ruled that candidates have two options: return the money to donors and have this acknowledged with receipts, or declare the amount as income that the candidates earned for the election year, and which they must pay the appropriate taxes.
It could well be, though, that Duterte had made the offers tongue-in-cheek. But the drug lords may not have been amused, since reports soon swirled that a drug lord had raised a P50-million bounty for assassins to kill Duterte and then incoming Philippine National Police Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa. Duterte retorted that he would pay P60 million to have those drug lords to be killed instead. If the drug lord raises his bid to P100 million, Duterte said, he would outbid the drug lord by offering hired guns P150 million.
Table of rewards
Notably, Duterte’s multi-million-peso reward offers – including the most recent one for those who would turn in “ninja cops” – have yet to be committed into writing. By contrast, DDB has codified a schedule of rewards for Operation: Lawmen.
Section 22 of R. A. No. 9165 does state: “The Board shall recommend to the concerned government agency the grant of compensation, reward and award to any person providing information and to law enforcers participating in the operation, which results in the successful confiscation, seizure or surrender of dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals.”
The Operation: Lawmen rewards schedule lists the amount of monetary award to be given to law enforcers and “support units” as determined by the kind and volume of illegal substance they seize or confiscate.
For example, less than 200 grams of confiscated shabu, cocaine, heroin, or ketamine would mean a minimum reward of P1,000, plus P100 per gram in excess of one gram. Two hundred kilograms or more of the same substances could mean a reward of P1.395 million, plus P1,500 per kilogram in excess of that.
Those who are able to confiscate or recover 13 to 266 tablets of Ecstasy or any other illegal “designer drug,” meanwhile, could get P100 per tablet. For more than 266 tablets, the reward consists of a lump sum plus another amount, according to a set volume range. The highest volume range — 266,667 to 666,666 tablets – for instance would translate to P1.395 million in reward money, plus P1,500/1,334 tablets in excess of 266,667 tablets.
Reward claims, however, cannot go over P2 million per anti-drug operation, according to DDB Regulation No. 1.
From intel funds?
Felipe Rojas, the DDB chairman who affixed his signature onto Regulation No. 1, has been quoted in several media reports as saying that the money “will be taken from the operation and intelligence funds of the implementing agencies — the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.”
PCIJ checked the “Confidential, Intelligence, and Extraordinary Expenses” item in the budget of the three agencies for 2016 and found that only PNP has intelligence funds amounting to P306.02 million. According to the 2016 General Appropriation Act, however, NBI has P33 million in confidential funds and extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses while PDEA has a total of P73.8 million.
In the proposed 2017 budget, the Duterte’ administration’s first budget measure, PDEA has a proposed P73.6- million intelligence fund, the PNP, a P306.2-million intelligence fund, and the NBI, a P20.4-million confidential fund.
Here’s where bureaucratic semantics get complicated. The general provisions of the 2017 National Expenditure Program or NEP state that “no appropriations shall be released or disbursed for intelligence activities, including amounts sourced for savings, unless approved by the President” and that “agencies utilizing intelligence funds shall submit to the President a quarterly report on the accomplishments in the use of said funds.”
Under the NEP, “intelligence expenses” as those related to “intelligence information-gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel, and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact to national security.”
Circular bans it
Meanwhile, a joint circular issued in 2015 by five agencies — Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management, Department of National Defense, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Governance Commission for GOCCs — had specified that intelligence and confidential funds cannot be used for “salaries, wages, overtime, additional compensation, allowance or other fringe benefits of official and employees who are employed by the government in whatever capacity or elected officials, except when authorized by law.”
The same circular also said that intelligence funds can be used for “special projects and case operation plans as approved by the head of agency involving covert and semi-covert psychological, internal security operation, and peace and order activities, as well as programs/projects/campaigns against lawlessness and lawless elements involving intelligence activities.”
Then again, a closer look at DDB Regulation No. 1 reveals that it does not explicitly mention intelligence funds. Instead, its Section 13 says that the funds for the rewards would come from each agency’s yearly appropriation, along with contributions to the Operation Lawmen Committee.
In a recent interview with PCIJ, PDEA Plans and Operations Service Director Gladys Rosales said that ideally, funding for Operation: Lawmen should be part of the agency budget. She said that it had been too late for PDEA to request an allotment for this purpose for 2016, but it is asking for P30 million for it for 2017. Rosales added that if a concerned agency has savings for this year, that could be used for the rewards.
Of course, Operation: Lawmen is meant in large part to encourage law enforcers to be more vigilant in getting every scrap of illegal substance possible off the market. But it can also be seen as a way of helping such agents of the law overcome any temptation to pocket seized substances so that they can sell these themselves. (According to the DDB regulation, “law enforcers” refer not just to members of the PNP, PDEA, NBI, and the Bureau of Customs, but also to those of any state agency or support unit exercising law-enforcement functions and authorized to carry out anti-drug operations.)
“I’m not saying that it’s true,” Rosales said, referring to allegedly corrupt cops. “But on the prevention aspect…it could be a deterrent.”
Some observers have noted that while the PNP have been conducting numerous anti-drug operations across the country in the last three months, its haul of illegal substances does not seem to be commensurate with such efforts.
Whether or not “ninja cops” have anything to do with the seeming discrepancy is uncertain, however.
PNP’s own data show that in the first five months of 2015, criminal and administrative charges had been filed against nine PNP members who had been arrested for selling shabu.
In 2014, the PNP said it had also arrested five other policemen for selling illegal drugs.
Flushing out ‘ninjas’
Chief Inspector Roque Merdegia Jr., spokesperson of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force, also recently told reporters that the PNP has a list of an undisclosed number of narco-cops “for intelligence purposes.” Most of those on the list were reportedly non-commissioned officers.
In truth, the PNP has been trying to cleanse itself of “ninja cops” for years now. Among the key components of the past administration’s own anti-drug campaign – Operation Kontra Droga Charlie, a sequel to Kontra Droga Bravo that was launched in 2009 – was “Internal Cleansing.”
In his letter of instruction for Kontra Droga Charlie, which was launched in July 2012, then PNP Director General Alan Purisima had pointed out, among other things, that “the war on illegal drugs is exacerbated by the reported involvement of some PNP personnel in this illicit activity either as users, pushers, or coddlers.
Yet it was not until late June last year that the PNP under the Aquino administration announced the setting up of an “internal cleansing” program that was to be led by then PNP deputy chief for operations Marcelo Garbo Jr.
At the time, Garbo had directed the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force and the PNP Intelligence Group to “identify, arrest and file charges immediately against police personnel selling illegal drugs.”
Merdegia said in a recent media interview that Garbo and the PNP’s anti-drug task force had pleaded to “validate information about policemen directly involved in selling drugs and arrest them then their dismissal from the service.”
But by some twist of irony, Garbo was among five top retired and incumbent police officials identified by President Duterte as “narco cops.”
Reading from a diagram of persons allegedly involved in the drug trade that was supposedly derived from intelligence reports, Duterte in a press conference last July tagged Garbo to be the “protector” and “associate” of at least three drug lords.
Garbo, who had openly campaigned for Liberal Party presidential candidate Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II in the last elections, would later reply: “I believe the President was fed by people close to him with wrong and poison information.” He said he was ready “to meet the president one-on-one regarding his accusations.” — Infographics by R-Jay sale and Vino Lucero, PCIJ, September 2016