Friday, January 9, 2009


It is not something that you often see on the news: anti-narcotics cops revealing attempts to bribe them to the tune of millions of pesos by suspected drug dealers.

This is the story of the so-called “Alabang boys” (trio Richard Brodett, Joseph Tecson, and Jordan Joseph) who allegedly attempted to bribe officials of the country’s top anti-drug agency, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), in a sum ranging from three million to the whopping amount of 50 million pesos to drop the drug charges against them.

I said it is a unique story because, having been a trial lawyer with experience in handling drug cases, it is usually the police who are seen or accused of asking bribe money in exchange for the dismissal of charges against suspected drug dealers. Allegations also fly high about the police intentionally arresting innocent citizens on drug charges in devious cash-for-freedom schemes.

This time around, however, it is the anti-narcotics operatives who are crying foul by allegedly being the victims of bribery attempts. What is even unique about this story is that the amount involved is staggering that a meagerly-paid policeman, or any public functionary for that matter, may find difficult to resist. This is not an indictment of the civil service, but merely a statement consistent with the sad fact – and I say this not with pride but shame – that our country ranks among the top corrupt nations in Asia.

The whole controversy erupted when the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the dismissal of the charges against the Alabang boys, purportedly for violation by PDEA of the procedures in the arrest of criminal suspects. According to the DOJ, the buy-bust (an anti-narcotics operation where a drug dealer is arrested during the purchase of dangerous drugs by a police undercover or informant [known as a “poseur buyer”]) conducted by PDEA was a farce.

Defendants in dangerous drugs cases commonly raise the defense of “frame-up,” by claiming that there was really no buy-bust or that the drugs found in their possession were merely planted. For this defense to fly defendants must show motive on the part of the arresting officers and, although difficult to prove, the most plausible motive is extortion. Under this theory, the police arrested them for the corrupt purpose of extorting money from them in exchange for their freedom.

If the police, however, say that it is the defendants who were bribing them for their release, motive becomes even more problematic to prove. What motive could the police possibly have in saying that they were being bribed? The offered bribe was not enough?

But the amount floated in the Alabang boys case was from three to 50 million pesos, an amount that by Philippine standards is huge. Did PDEA merely make up this amount? But if PDEA tried to extort money from the Alabang boys and found the amount miniscule it makes no sense to go public on an alleged bribery attempt against it.

If we follow this line by assuming that PDEA was the original bribe seeker but the amount offered by defendants was unacceptable, going public and turning the story around by accusing the defendants of bribery attempts would only make PDEA vulnerable to an investigation and open the door to its original extortion attempt. PDEA would be opening a can of worms, so to speak.

Given the implausibility of this theory another one is needed. PDEA may have come out with a bribery story to cover any lapses in conducting the buy-bust that led to the dismissal of the charges against the Alabang boys. By claiming the bribery attempt against it, PDEA may be conditioning the public that DOJ investigators were bribed in dropping the charges, with PDEA eventually emerging heroic in the process for resisting the bribery attempt.

This is, however, a long shot. Drug cases are dismissed a lot of times due to violation of defendants’ constitutional rights to due process during the arrest, more than because the defendants were innocent. More often than not this technicality is the criminal defense attorney’s best friend in securing the dismissal of charges against his clients suspected of drug dealing, and the police unfortunately seem to do nothing to improve their efficiency in this area.

In other words, dismissal of drug cases because the “constable has blundered” on constitutional grounds is not something that comes as a surprise. This being the case I don’t think PDEA would risk the publicity it is getting right now – both good and bad – by trying to cover its back for something that is an accepted lapse in law enforcement both here and abroad.

On the other hand, bribery of DOJ prosecutors who handled the preliminary investigation of the Alabang boys’ case appear plausible. Many instances suggest something improper transpired at the DOJ. For one, defendants’ lawyer Felisberto Verano admitted drafting the release order on DOJ stationery which is admittedly highly irregular and may be a serious violation of ethical rules for lawyers. The interest of DOJ Undersecretary Blancaflor in the case is very unusual, which even Secretary Raul Gonzalez admits. Blancaflor, it is reported, is a fraternity brother of Verano.

Considering the seriousness of the allegations, it would serve Secretary Gonzalez well to conduct a full blown investigation into the matter and promptly review the case for an early resolution, rather than engage in a publicity fight with PDEA. If indeed DOJ prosecutor Resado and Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño believe everything is above board and there are a lot of procedural errors committed by PDEA in the buy-bust, let this be shown in the review by the secretary. Not later but now.

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