Barangay chair nabbed for illegal drugs in NorthCot released on bail

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 21 May) – The re-elected barangay chairman in Makilala, North Cotabato who was arrested last week for possession of an illegal drug has already been released from the custody of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Region 12 after he posted bail on Friday.

Melvin Fortajada, chairman of Barangay Malasila, said his lawyer posted at least P320,000 for the two cases filed against him – possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu and possession of ammunition of a pistol.

He said operatives of PDEA placed him temporarily at their regional headquarters in General Santos City hours after his arrest in Makilala on May 15 while waiting for the court’s decision on his bail.

In an interview, the barangay chairman has denied any involvement in drug trafficking.

Fortajada, however, admitted having an “acquaintance” with a certain Juvie who, in 2017, was arrested by PDEA in Makilala for illegal drugs. Juvie, records from PDEA showed, is a big-time supplier of shabu in North Cotabato.

Fortajada also denied links with the son of a town mayor in North Cotabato who later confessed in public to be a drug user and now helping the local government in its campaign against drugs.

“I swear and I can say honestly that I am not in anyway involved in drugs. Even if it would cost the life of my family. That’s how firm my conviction is,” said Fortajada in Cebuano.

But when interviewed over the Catholic-run DXND last week, he confessed to being a drug user and admitted having yielded to authorities when police intensified their “Operation Tokhang” in 2016. He said he surrendered to Makilala Mayor Rudy Caoagdan.

Fortajada said PDEA operatives abused their authority when they raided his house and took some of his belongings, including cash.

According to him, among those that were seized but not stipulated in the PDEA’s report were a gold necklace, an expensive watch, and P20,000 cash.

He alleged there were two batches of PDEA operatives that raided his house.

“The first group arrived earlier at 2 a.m., on May 15, where we were all ordered to get out of the house. While we’re outside, the operatives checked all our belongings. Everything,” said Fortajada.

The second group came at least 30 minutes later and this time, Fortajada said they were already allowed to go inside the house.

One of the operatives under the second group even shouted and asked where the witnesses were, he said. Fortajada said the media, including the barangay kagawad of Malasila, who served as witnesses arrived late at the scene.

“Practically, there were no witnesses when they started to check on our belongings. So when they said they found five sachets of shabu in my bag, I knew it was planted,” he stressed.

Fortajada was not included in the list of narco-politicians among barangay chairmen and kagawad the PDEA released to media two weeks before the barangay elections. But a PDEA agent told reporters that the barangay chair “has long been included in [our] watch list.”

Fortajada said he is bent on filing administrative complaints against the PDEA for their alleged abuses. (Malu Cadelina Manar / MindaNews)