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Police, PDEA jointly probe Quezon City shootout

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Police, PDEA jointly probe Quezon City shootout

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) will jointly investigate the shootout on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City Wednesday night between police and anti-narcotics agents that killed four people.

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS An agent of the National Bureau of Investigation gathers evidence on the scene of the shooting incident between elements of the Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on Feb. 25, 2021. Four people died in the encounter at the parking lot of a fast food chain at the Ever Gotesco Shopping Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Feb. 24, 2021. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) said on Thursday “a joint PNP-PDEA board of inquiry will be formed to determine what transpired and who should be held liable.”

President Rodrigo Duterte called for impartial investigation, and several lawmakers proposed a legislative inquiry.

PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas has designated the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group as the lead investigator.

MGen. Vicente Danao, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, was tasked to provide updates on the investigation “to keep the public updated with accurate and relevant information,” the QCPD said.

The shootout outside the Ever Gotesco Mall, involving members of PDEA’s Special Enforcement Service agents and the QCPD Special Operations Unit, lasted close to an hour.
Killed were two policemen, a PDEA agent and an informant, authorities said on Thursday.

Danao described the incident as a “misencounter,” but PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said in a television interview it was too early in the investigation to make any conclusions.

“One thing is sure, our agents there are coordinating and they have proper documents supporting a buy-bust operation. In fact, they have buy-bust money with them,” Carreon said.

In phone camera images shown on news TV, gunfire was clearly heard, and people were running around, confused, as they sought cover.

PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva refused to provide details of the incident.

“We are collecting all pieces of evidence, how it started and how it escalated. What happened last night will be the main focus of our inquiry, and we are careful [in disclosing details] because we want to get all necessary information,” Villanueva said at a joint news conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

He and Sinas refused to name the targets of the drug busts carried out, apparently separately, by the police and PDEA.

Several angles were being looked into by the investigators from the two agencies, according to Villanueva.

One was the possibility that a drug syndicate was involved.

PNP spokesman BGen. Ildebrandi Usana said in a statement late Wednesday night the PNP and PDEA “both agree and assure the public that the incident, while serious, will in no way affect the continuing operational relationship and coordination they have long firmed up in the fight against illegal drugs.”

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte was sad and concerned about the incident.

“The President, of course, expressed both sadness and concern bakit nangyari nga ito na kapwa tao ng gobyerno ay nagkaputukan (The President is both saddened and concerned as to why this shootout between government personnel happened), Roque said during a briefing.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will do its own probe on the incident, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Roque expressed confidence “that with the PNP and PDEA forming an investigation panel and Justice Secretary Guevarra ordering the NBI to conduct its own parallel investigation, we will know the truth behind this incident and justice will be done.”

Mayor Josefina Belmonte appealed to the city residents to avoid posting fake news or wrong information about what happened so as not to sow terror or confusion among readers.

Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo is calling for a House inquiry into the shooting incident on Commonwealth Avenue, which is in her district.

Castelo said the inquiry would focus “on the adequacy or inadequacy of the law, Republic Act 9165, or the ‘Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002’.”

The law, she said, provides that the PDEA is “the lead agency in the enforcement of the Act, while the PNP, NBI and other law enforcement agencies shall continue to conduct anti-drug operations in support of the PDEA, provided that the said agencies shall, as far as practicable, coordinate with the PDEA prior to anti-drug operations.”

“Is the provision on coordination clear enough for our law enforcers to avoid incidents such as what happened in my district on Wednesday? Does Congress have to make it clearer by for instance requiring agencies to disclose the details of their intended anti-drug operations?” Castelo said.

She noted statements that both operations were legitimate and that there was coordination.

“So why the misencounter? Were the two groups unaware that they would operate in the same area or place? And why did it take so long to stop the gunfight if there was prior coordination? These are additional questions we would like answered,” Castelo said.

 WITH REINA C. TOLENTINO, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JAVIER JOE ISMAEL