Questions raised over Panganiban buy-bust

Doubts have been raised over Saturday’s buy-bust operation along a deserted highway in Panganiban town where the Catanduanes police claimed to have seized 28 sachets of shabu as well as a gun and bullets from a barangay kagawad.

In a report issued last weekend, combined personnel of the Panganiban police station, the Provincial Intelligence Unit and the 1st and 2nd Provincial Mobile Force Company (PMFC) headed by Panganiban police officer-in-charge PLt Rene N. Armeña arrested Pio Velasco dela Cruz, 44, single and a resident of barangay San   Miguel at 10:20 A.M. of March 14 at sitio Km 11 along the highway linking the towns of Panganiban and Caramoran.

The police allegedly confiscated from the two-termer kagawad’s possession three small sachets of the illegal drug that was the object of sale, 25 medium-sized sachets of shabu, P500 buy-bust money, a Cal. 22 pistol with three bullets and other paraphernalia. The evidence all came from an almost-new backpack which the police alleged was in possession of the kagawad.

It also claimed that the official is included in the Recalibrated Priority Data Base on illegal drugs/National Watchlist on Illegal Drugs.

Dela Cruz is reportedly under custody of the Panganiban police pending the filing of the criminal cases for violation of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and RA 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms Regulation Act against him.

The Tribune learned, however, that the suspect is no longer at the police station as verified by his wife, with whom he has two young children.

His family said they do now know where the police brought Pio and that they fear for his safety. During his detention at the police station, the family claimed they were denied access to him.

When the wife finally got to talk with the kagawad, he told her that he was forced to drink a bottle of mineral water before he underwent a drug test, suspecting that the water was laced with shabu.

During Oplan Tokhang in 2016, dela Cruz surrendered and then completed the Community-Based Treatment and Rehabilitation Program (CBTRP) along with other Persons Who Used Drugs (PWUDs) in the barangay, which was declared as “drug-cleared” by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

According to his wife, 41-year old Maricel Ceballo, her husband was set to join a neighbor in catching tilapia at a pond but he was delayed.

When he drove his motorcycle towards Km 11, the police team was already there. The lawmen reportedly introduced themselves as CIDG members and then tried to hand him a new backpack but he moved away.

As soon as the backpack was again brought near him, the police allegedly handcuffed him.

Pio claimed that he did not carry a bag or a backpack, as borne out by the footage of him leaving the village as caught in the barangay’s CCTV system.

A review of the CCTV footage also showed that a white car and two motorcycles, apparently the vehicles used by the law enforcers, passed through the barangay sometime at 3 A.M. The car apparently had its plate number removed. A copy of the footage is already with the dela Cruz family.

The suspect’s family as well as some residents also disputed the police report that it was a joint operation, insisting that the Panganiban police was called in only after dela Cruz was arrested.

“Nakihag-ot, minsan nakibuno ning orig,” a resident disclosed, referring to the suspect’s source of livelihood. “Nagkusinero yan kan nakaaguing semana sa handaan.”

He said they knew dela Cruz had not engaged in illegal activities since his Tokhang days.

“Aram ko nagbago na yan,” the resident added. “Kahilak man kang pamilya niya.”

Compared to past reports on previous buy-bust operations, the police report on the operation against dela Cruz did not state the presence of witnesses as required under the rules, such as a media representative and barangay officials.

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