Invoking the spirit of the Christmas season, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Dangerous Drugs on Wednesday decided to release from detention former Mayor Teddy Tumang of Mexico, Pampanga.
Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. moved to free Tumang during the committee’s third hearing on the seizure last September of 560 kilos of illegal drugs worth P3.6 billion in a warehouse in Barangay San Jose Malino, Mexico, Pampanga.
“Mr. Chairman, may I move that the committee temporarily release Mayor Tumang, who is my kabalen and kumpare, so he could be with his family during the coming Christmas and New Year holidays,” Gonzales told the panel chaired by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers.
Gonzales and Tumang are both from Mexico.
Gonzales said the former mayor’s furlough would also allow him to attend the wedding this week of one of his children and to recover from COVID-19, which he has contracted during his detention at the House premises.
“He should just isolate himself at home until he recovers,” he said.
“Let us thank Senior Deputy Speaker Gonzales for this gesture,” Barbers said.
Gonzales also proposed that Tumang’s temporary liberty last until Congress resumes its session on Jan. 22, 2024 after its Christmas break. The committee approved his proposal. Maricel V. Cruz
The Barbers committee cited the former mayor for contempt and ordered him detained last Nov. 15 for revealing information taken up by the panel in an executive session in violation of House rules.
A former aide of Tumang, Roy Gomez, has similarly been cited for contempt and detained by another panel, the Committee on Public Accounts.
Barbers informed his panel that he received a letter from Tumang in which the former mayor repeated his apology for revealing information taken up in a closed-door session. Tumang also requested that his 30-day detention be reduced.
“He has already served 15 days in detention. We will take up his request for a reduced confinement period when he reports back on Jan. 22,” the committee chairman said.
During his committee’s hearing, Barbers directed the National Bureau of Investigation, the agency that conducted the drug confiscation in Mexico in September “to produce Willy Ong, the main actor in this P3.6-billion illegal drugs shipment.”
“This is your project. You have to hunt down this Willy Ong and bring him to this committee in the next hearing,” the Mindanao lawmaker told lawyer Ross Jonathan Galicia, who heads the NBI task force against illegal drugs.
“Do you know how he looks like? Do you have a picture of him?” Barbers asked Galicia, who responded, “No, Your honor.”
“How can you find him if you don’t know how he looks like and you don’t have a picture of him?” Barbers asked again.
Galicia said the NBI has requested the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Land Transportation Office and other agencies for records on Ong, and that his office was still awaiting replies from these offices.
Barbers and Antipolo Rep. Romero Acop lamented that up to now, the NBI and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency have not arrested anyone behind the 560-kilo illegal drugs shipment and no case has been filed.
“So this is another case where there is a crime but no criminal,” Barbers said wryly.
PDEA director general Moro Virgilio Lazo informed the committee that he met with NBI officials last Oct. 19 and that the latter asked for a period of one-and-a-half months from that date to file cases.
Galicia acknowledged that their self-imposed timeline has already lapsed, but promised the Barbers committee that his task force would file charges against some unnamed persons in interest “before the end of this year.”