P50-M drug bribe bared
DoJ drops raps vs 3 rich kids in buy-bust
By Tarra Quismundo, Dona Pazzibugan
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) smells something rotten in the justice department’s dismissal of the charges filed against three “rich kids” arrested in buy-bust operations in September.
PDEA spokesperson Derrick Carreon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday that the agency had received information that “P50 million changed hands” for the release of Richard Santos Brodett, Jorge Jordana Joseph and Joseph Ramirez Tecson, or the so-called “Alabang Boys” still being held at the agency’s detention center in Quezon City.
The ruling stirred suspicion among antinarcotics agents who were confident of the evidence against Brodett, Joseph and Tecson.
But Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño firmly denied that he and the prosecutors who investigated and reviewed the case had been bribed to recommend the dismissal of the charges.
“It’s not true. That’s a big lie. They’re just speculating,” he said when reached on the phone to comment on the PDEA’s accusation that P50 million had changed hands to absolve the “Alabang Boys.”
“[The case] was decided on the merits,” Zuño stressed. “Hindi totoo ang P50 million. Kilala mo ako, matagal na tayo sa DoJ (It’s not true that there was a P50-million bribe. You know me, I’ve been in the DoJ for so long).”
Carreon said the justice department dismissed the charges against the three young men in a resolution issued on Dec. 2. The PDEA received a copy on Dec. 19, even as the agency presented evidence “to establish the fact of sale.”
According to Carreon, PDEA Director General Dionisio Santiago “received reliable information … that parties close to the three rich kids are working to secure their release order from the DoJ.”
“There were insinuations that money has changed hands, and that even [Santiago] received part of the alleged P50-million bribe,” Carreon said.
“They were confident that they will spend Christmas in their homes. But we will hold them … There’s an automatic review of the resolution, and they will stay in jail,” he said.
Arrest after arrest
Santiago himself talked about the matter in an interview over ABS-CBN’s morning show “Umagang Kay Ganda” on Friday.
Asked if some state lawyers could have been paid for the favor, Santiago said: “I think so.” But he admitted that the PDEA had no evidence to prove the purported bribery.
In a statement issued after his TV appearance, Santiago said: “Huli kami nang huli, tapos ginagawa nilang negosyo (We make arrest after arrest, and then they make it into a business).”
He said his agency would succeed in prosecuting the three young men during the mandatory DoJ review. “We will exhaust all legal remedies. This time, we will no longer take things sitting down,” he said.
The PDEA said Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez had ordered an inquiry into the purported bribe.
Back in October, the agency also reported receiving information that relatives of one of the “Alabang Boys” had offered P20 million for his release. It declined to say on whose behalf the offer was made.
But the justice department did not find probable cause to recommend the trial of Brodett, Joseph and Tecson.
Zuño said that before it reached his office for final review, the case was investigated by a state prosecutor, and the findings were reviewed by other state prosecutors—first by Philip Quimpo and then by Misael Ladaga.
He described Quimpo and Ladaga as “extremely cautious” in checking facts before making a recommendation.
Asked if he had heard of suspicious goings-on when the justice department was handling the case, Zuño replied in the negative.
He said the lawyer of the three young men had made no overtures to talk to him when the case reached his office for final review.
“No one followed up the case with me. It stayed in my office for two to three days. Their lawyer did not try to talk to me, honestly, I swear to God,” he said.
Zuño said he explained his side to Justice Secretary Gonzalez when the latter asked about the case.
Nevertheless, he said, Gonzalez decided to order a reinvestigation.
“It’s OK with me,” Zuño said. “He can assign it to another state prosecutor. I welcome it. And I voluntarily inhibit myself.”
Brodett, Joseph and Tecson no longer have to be detained while the reinvestigation is going on, according to Zuño.
He said an arrest warrant would be issued should the new panel of prosecutors find probable cause to recommend trial.