Duterte still trusts ‘innocent’ Albayalde despite stepping down amid controversy – Panelo

By Melissa Luz Lopez, CNN Philippines

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar Albayalde still has the trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte despite stepping down weeks ahead of his retirement due to the “ninja cops” issue, Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo said.

Albayalde opted to go on non-duty status — much like terminal leave — effective October 14, three weeks ahead of his mandatory retirement on November 8. He earlier announced that the turnover to the new PNP chief has been set for October 29 to accommodate Duterte’s schedule, but the top cop apparently opted to step down even earlier.

“I haven’t talked with the President, but… I can only speculate that perhaps, he has had enough of the innuendos, the accusations which, according to him, are false and unfair. The family is suffering from it so he decided to have an earlier turnover,” Panelo told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Panelo, also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said the police chief might have been gravely affected by the Senate hearings probing the Good Conduct Time Allowance law, which later on shifted focus to a questionable drug sting operation in Pampanga six years ago, by a unit which Albayalde used to head.

In recent hearings, former chief of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, then-head of the Police Regional Office 3 Aaron Aquino, and his successor PCSupt. Rudy Lacadin – all pinned Albayalde for reportedly blocking the dismissal of 13 cops involved in the shady operations. The so-called “ninja cops” supposedly pocketed millions of pesos by recycling the seized substances and extorting from a supposed Chinese drug lord.

However, Panelo said this should not be taken as truth just yet.

“I believe in the Constitutional presumption of innocence. Unless you can show to me proof to the contrary, he remains to me innocent from any charge,” Panelo said, questioning why senators are quick to judge the top cop.

He added that as a lawyer, Magalong’s testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was all hearsay while Lacadin’s claim was ruined, given that he was not sure if Albayalde was joking when he supposedly said on the phone that he just earned little from the drug sting in 2013.

“I do not blame Gen. Albayalde for complaining bakit ganoon,” Panelo said. “Alam mo kasi ang Pilipino, madaling maniwala sa mga insinuation, innuendos. Pero sa mga nag-iisip kagaya ko, lalo pa kung ang training mo as lawyer, hindi siya masisira sa akin.”

[Translation: Filipinos are quick to believe insinuations and innuendos. But for people like me who think, especially with training as a lawyer, his image would not be ruined.]

The Presidential spokesman even said that senators should not be giving their comments about Albayalde, pending the completion of their investigation. He added that the burden to prove that Albayalde was guilty of crimes is on the accusers.

Kami naman we’re all for investigation pero sana, huwag magsalita muna kapag hindi pa taposKasi kapag nagbibigay ng mga conclusion mo diyan habang ongoing, may problema ka. Parang biased ka [We’re all for investigation but I hope they (senators) don’t draw conclusions when it’s not yet done. If you do that, you have a problem. You sound biased],” he added.

Panelo said he is not surprised with Albayalde’s decision to step down, saying that he has a family to worry about. As far as Malacañang is concerned, the trust remains.

“For as long as the President says nothing about it, the reasonable presumption is he has the trust… Wala namang sinasabi ang Presidente so bakit naman aalis? [The President isn’t saying anything, so why would he leave?],” Panelo added, but said that he understands the decision as Albayalde’s family is caught in the middle.

Panelo said he has yet to discuss with Duterte about Albayalde and his next bet at police chief.

Duterte has not given any hints about who he is eyeing as the next top cop, but Panelo said the President is looking for an “honest and competent” leader at the helm of the police force.

For now, PLt. Gen. Archie Gamboa has been assigned as PNP officer-in-charge until an appointment has been made.

Apart from Gamboa, said to be contenders for the post are PLTGEN. Camilo Cascolan, Deputy Chief of Operations, also a mistah (batchmate) of Albayalde from PMA Class of 1986; and PMGEN. Guillermo Eleazar, the incoming Directorial Staff and former head of the PNP’s National Capital Region Police Office.

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