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

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2019   •   529

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)

Several senators laud signing of Anti-Terror Act despite oppositions

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators have lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite oppositions coming from different sectors.

“Much credit goes to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered the most,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Friday.

“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president,” he added.

Lacson, one of the principal authors and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, vowed that he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also expressed elation over the enactment of the controversial bill.

“I am glad that the president has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law!” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Francis Tolentino also called the signing of the law as “very timely” and “historic” as the nation needed the measure.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19,” he added.

The new law repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

The measure allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to 24 days without warrant. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets and accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.

Before it was enacted, the bill was met with widespread opposition from different groups who raised concern over its provisions that could be abused by authorities, stifle dissent and spur human rights violations.

But Sotto said the law has enough safeguards to prevent enforcers from abusing their authority.

“It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists,” Sotto said.

Lacson has repeatedly defended the measure, saying it has enough protection to ensure the rights of those detained.

3 options being considered for Duterte’s SONA, Sotto says

Robie de Guzman   •   July 1, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Congress is considering three scenarios for President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

In an online press conference, Sotto said the Senate and the House of Representatives have been discussing options on how to hold the SONA this year amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Option number one involves conducting a traditional SONA in the Batasang Pambansa, with the president and several members of the legislative branch in attendance but without guests.

Option number two is to have the president deliver his speech at the Malacañang while lawmakers convene in Batasang Pambansa.

Option number three will see the President staying in Malacañang while senators and members of the House convene in their respective session halls.

Sotto believes the Palace will prefer that the address be made in Malacañang to ensure the president’s safety amid the threat of coronavirus pandemic.

“Kung ano ang safest sa pangulo ang primary consideration sa pag-decide sa SONA setup,” he said. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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.

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