By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Santos Jr. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)

MANILA – Former Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy chief for operations Lt. Gen. Benjamin Santos Jr. on Friday maintained that there are no attempts for a massive cover-up of the Oct. 8, 2022 anti-drug operation that yielded 990 kg. of shabu in Manila.

In a press briefing in Camp Crame, Santos said he had to cut short the celebration of his 55th birthday on that day after receiving a call from PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. to proceed to the area where the operation took place.

Santos said upon his arrival at the scene, he held a small meeting with arresting officers and gave them guidance on the requirements for inquest proceedings for the haul to ensure compliance with the chain of custody in the inventory of seized drugs.

“I saw that there is vault where the drugs were kept. There are suitcases and sacks containing drugs. I checked this vault and I saw another small vault. I asked ‘who opened the vault?’. Nobody responded. When I checked the small vault I saw the ID of (Master Sgt. Rodolfo) Mayo). I asked where he (Mayo) was,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

Mayo, then a police sergeant, and another suspect Ney Atadero were caught during the operation.

Santos said he immediately ordered the officers to arrest Mayo, file charges against him and subject him to inquest proceedings.

“That is what I insisted. I really had no idea what transpired there. I was just there to congratulate our team because this is a big drug haul, to give them a pat on the back and to ensure that the operation went smoothly and that the cases that we will file will stand,” he added.

Citing his personal assessment, Santos said he then briefed Azurin that the drug haul “most probably exceeded 600 kilos as initially reported, and is close to a ton”.

Santos, who has only six months in service before retirement, said he has no means to influence the investigation on the incident as he has already been relieved from his post.

“So ngayon, hindi ko na alam sa totoo lang kung ako ay magli-leave ba o paanong gagawin ko sa akin. (Now, I honestly don’t know whether I will go on leave or what will happen to me),” he added.

Santos was referring to the call of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. for police officers allegedly involved in the drug haul to take a leave of absence pending the results of the investigation on the case.

Last April 10, the DILG chief presented a closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage that showed the actual event of the operation which is seemingly different from the report rendered by the PNP Drug Enforcement Group (PDEG).

“Relying only on the CCTV footage, with no due process or further consultations, Secretary Abalos, however well-meaning he may have been, implicated my name in the purported irregular buy-bust operation. I strongly deny any involvement in whatever impropriety or infraction of law or standard operating procedures if there are any in the alleged cover-up in the buy bust operation,” he added.

Santos denied having knowledge of the tactical plan of the PDEG to use Mayo to arrest his source of illegal drugs where more illegal drugs may be recovered.

Relieved PDEG chief Brig. Gen. Narciso Domingo, however, earlier said they tried to hide the arrest of Mayo for the purpose of using him to get bigger fishes on the illegal drugs trade, which he described as a “tactical move” approved by Santos and Azurin. (PNA)