New witnesses, evidence to appear in Senate probe on ‘ninja cops’ issue – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2019   •   460

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – The next Senate hearing on the issue of illegal drug recycling scheme involving several cops, and the anomalies at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will be “explosive,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday.

In a press briefing at the Manila Hotel, Sotto told reporters that new pieces of evidence and new witnesses will appear when the Senate justice and blue ribbon committees resume their joint inquiry on Wednesday.

“I do not know if I’m at liberty to tell you but there is really something explosive again. I think there will be new evidence, one or two new witnesses because I signed nine subpoenas last night,” he said.

Sotto said Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino and former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief and now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong will still be invited to the hearing.

Sotto added the investigation on Wednesday will also reveal more information about the controversial anti-drug operation in Mexico, Pampanga in 2013 which involved 13 police officers earlier tagged as ‘ninja cops.’

“Pinagkukuha ang sasakyan ni Johnson Lee that will be part of the investigation tomorrow na lalabas yung mga sasakyan na tinira,” he said.

The 13 cops, led by then Supt. Rodney Baloyo, allegedly made off with kilograms of shabu worth millions that they seized from an anti-drug operation on alleged Chinese drug lord Johnson Lee.

Baloyo’s team was also accused of setting Lee free in exchange for P50 million and presented another Chinese national as a drug suspect.

The police officers were ordered dismissed in 2014 while Albayalde, who was then the head of Pampanga provincial police, was relieved from his post for command responsibility.

The dismissal order, however, was not implemented as the police officers were only demoted in 2017.

Magalong and Aquino both accused Albayalde of intervening in the case of his former subordinates, which the latter denied.

On the alleged anomalies at the BuCor, Sotto said bureau officers Mabel Bansil and Veronica Buño have revealed new information regarding the irregularities in the implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) rule.

“Marami silang sinabi eh, sa executive session, ang mga sinabi nila related to their work,” he said.

The Senate initially started its inquiry into the questionable release of heinous crimes convicts under the expanded GCTA law, which witnesses claimed were given for a price by corrupt BuCor officials.

It later went on to probe the alleged recycling and reselling of illegal drugs by some rogue policemen. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Grace Casin)

Sotto backs shift of NCR to modified ECQ, says rushing back to ‘old normal’ will be reckless

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday welcomed the decision of the government to place high-risk areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement, Sotto expressed his belief that the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to shift some areas into modified ECQ was based on recommendations made by experts who have been on top of the public health crisis.

“I am confident that the recommendations given to him were the result of intelligent discussions that were based on solid data provided by authorities on the ground,” he said.

While he acknowledged that many people, especially in the National Capital Region (NCR), are yearning to return to their jobs and start earning income again, Sotto said it would best “if we all proceed on the side of caution and not throw away the gains of our sacrifices for almost two months.”

“I understand their concerns about losing their work and being unable to provide for the basic needs of their families,” he said.

“Rushing back to the ‘old’ normal, or even just a semblance of it, will be reckless. It will expose majority of our people to the continuing threat of the infectious novel coronavirus and open the gates for a second wave, which could be more vicious and difficult to handle,” he added.

Earlier in the day, the government announced that areas with high-risk for COVID-19 will be placed under modified ECQ starting May 16 until May 31.

These areas include Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City.

The entire island of Luzon had been placed under ECQ from March 17 to April 30. Some areas, including Metro Manila, were then placed under an extended community quarantine until May 15.

Under a modified ECQ, 50% of the workforce and operations of selected manufacturing and processing plants will be allowed to resume. Transportation will remain limited for essential goods and services.

Sotto said the downgrade of many areas to a general community quarantine will be a challenge for everyone to be more responsible individuals, and to care for the welfare of the public.

“Ngayon natin makikita ang disiplina at responsibilidad ng bawat isa sa atin,” he said.

“Walang sinuman sa atin ang gustong bumalik ulit sa ECQ. Nakasalalay sa ating lahat ang success o failure ng ating laban kontra COVID-19,” he added.

As of May 11, the Philippines has recorded 11,086 confirmed cases with 1,999 recovered patients and 726 deaths.

Most of these cases were reported in Metro Manila.

Sotto pushes for wider COVID-19 mass testing as May 15 ECQ end nears

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2020

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III is calling on the government to expand the mass testing for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as areas currently under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) anticipate a transition to a more relaxed general community quarantine period.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Sotto said the coverage of the mass testing being conducted by the Department of Health (DOH) must be widened to cover more people, especially those who will soon be allowed to go back to work under a GCQ status.

The senator expressed concern that most workers will return to their workplaces even as the rate of COVID-19 infections remains high, especially in Metro Manila.

Sotto said that at the Senate, 20 employees were found positive during a rapid testing conducted when the sessions resumed last Monday.

He said this should serve as an eye-opener to government leaders and the general population who have been pushing for the relaxation of quarantine rules even while the threat of coronavirus remains high.

“These employees duly complied with the stay-at-home order of the government. They just stayed inside their homes for almost two months. They were not exposed to anyone who is sick of COVID-19. They did not show and feel any of the symptoms,” he said.

“Kung sila na nasa bahay lang at sumunod sa lahat ng health protocols ay nag-positive sa virus, siguradong mas malala ang pwedeng mangyari kung ma-lift na ang enhanced community quarantine at ang lahat ay papayagan ng lumabas ng kanilang mga bahay,” he added.

Sotto stressed that an expanded mass testing will give health officials “a clearer picture of the extent of COVID-19 transmission and infection.”

He said the results of an expanded mass testing coverage will also serve to caution government leaders against prematurely lifting the current ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas and rushing their transition to general or relaxed quarantine.

“Magagabayan ng resulta ng mas malawak na mass testing ang ating mga lider para sila ay maghinay-hinay sa pagbuo ng desisyon ukol sa pagtanggal ng ECQ. The premature lifting of the strict quarantine regulation could lead to a worse second COVID-19 wave,” Sotto said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) will discuss on Monday its final recommendations on the fate of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.

After its meeting on Monday morning, the IATF will submit it recommendations to President Rodrigo Duterte for his final decision on the matter.

Metro Manila and other areas in the country with high COVID-19 cases have been placed under ECQ until May 15.

Sotto proposes to move opening of classes to September amid COVID-19 worries

Robie de Guzman   •   May 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday said he has filed a bill seeking to move the opening of classes in both public and private schools to September instead of June.

In a statement, Sotto said his bill seeks to adjust the opening of the next school year to ensure the welfare of students nationwide amid the continued threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In filing Senate Bill No. 1438, the lawmaker proposes to amend the Republic Act 7977 or the Act on Lengthening of School Calendar, which mandates the opening of school classes every year on the first Monday of June or not later than the last day of August.

Noting that the June school opening is just a month away, Sotto said there is a need to delay this year’s school opening amid worries over the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

He also stressed the importance of giving the Department of Education (DepEd) “more time and opportunity to prepare and adopt measures for the new normal of the education system,” considering the COVID-19 situation.

The bill also seeks to serve as the enabling law for the execution of the April 24 recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-MEID) to move the class opening to September.

“The approved recommendation of the IATF-EID runs counter to the law… To remedy the situation created by COVID-19 and consequently allow the execution of the IATF-EID recommendation, this measure is being proposed,” Sotto said.

Classes in all levels and all activities in both public and private learning institutions nationwide have been suspended since March 10 after President Duterte declared a national health emergency because of the outbreak of COVID-19.

Sotto said he would still push for the bill despite the DepEd’s announcement that the school year 2020-2021 will start on August 24.

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