The NBI will “go anywhere its investigation will lead,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Sunday, promising a thorough probe of the Feb. 24 shootout between police and state narcotics agents in a busy Quezon City intersection that left four people dead.
While the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will focus primarily on criminal liability in the shootout between members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), it could also look at administrative liability too.
He cited as an example the NBI investigation of the alleged failure of Customs and PDEA employees to detect a shabu shipment worth P1 billion in 2019.
“We’ve seen this many times before, more recently in the case of the tapioca shipment containing shabu. That’s why the President trusts the agency,” Guevarra said.
Earlier, President Duterte declared that the NBI was the only agency mandated to conduct an investigation into the shootout that led to the deaths of two policemen, a PDEA agent and an informant.
Guevarra said the NBI has formed a composite team to do the investigation.
Describing his meeting with the President on Feb. 26, Guevarra said: “The President was calm, but the concern on his face was palpable.”
Guevarra said both the heads of PNP and PDEA “offered no clear theories, as their investigation had barely begun.”
“What they (PNP and PDEA heads) narrated was essentially what we saw in news video footages, but nothing more than that,” he said.
“Dealing with the deaths and trauma of their operatives was their immediate concern,” Guevarra said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said last week's botched entrapment operation showed that the PNP must speed up the implementation of bodycam rules.
“It is again a bloody reminder of a missing but vital equipment in policing—video recording devices, especially during operations,” Recto said.
Recto had sponsored with then Senator JV Ejercito a P5.4 billion fund in the 2017 national budget for new police equipment, including body cameras, “but it took four years and five PNP chiefs to buy some 2,600 pieces.”
After failed biddings, the PNP finally took hold of the cameras early this year and are reportedly drafting protocols for their use.
Recto said making it mandatory for police officers to wear body cameras during routine patrols and also for PDEA, NBI and military units during field operations “will store evidence needed to prosecute criminals.”
“Played in court, the footage is evidence hard to refute. It will also ensure that SOP is followed during operations. And it cuts both ways. It protects citizens from abuse, and the police from unfounded charges of abuse,” he said.
Recto said it is also a tool for police commanders to know if patrol cars did go on their route.
A bill which guides the use of cameras in police work and funds their acquisition has cleared the Senate committee on public order.
Recto said the acquisition of bodycams and dashcams, plus their support infrastructure should be budgeted by Congress every year.
Meanwhile, Senator Christopher Go urged law enforcement agencies, particularly the PNP and the PDEA to improve inter-agency coordination.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the government may need to adjust its policies to prevent a repeat of the deadly "misencounter" between PNP and PDEA operatives in Quezon City.
One such adjustment, Lacson said, would involve the PDEA "overseeing" anti-drug operations and focusing on intelligence work and leaving the assault operations to specially trained police personnel.
PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas and PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva have described the Quezon City shootout as “the saddest day in the history of drug law enforcement.”
Senator Joel Villanueva questioned the judgment of law enforcement agencies involved in the bungled buy-bust operations on Wednesday that endangered the lives of workers of a fast-food chain, innocent bystanders and patrons, as well as delivery personnel after cops and narcotics agents opened fire at one another.
Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee, expressed support to an upcoming inquiry into the operation of the police and the PDEA, saying that the probe should be able to determine any shortcomings on the part of the law enforcement agencies and prevent a repeat of the incident that clearly endangered the lives of innocent people.
In the House, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo on Sunday said Congress would take into consideration the shootout in the budget deliberations for 2022.
“There should have been joint tactical operations if the Quezon City Police District and PDEA coordinated or knew of each other’s operations,” she said.