The Philippines’ national police chief stepped down Monday following allegations during a Senate hearing that he had protected his officers accused of reselling seized illegal drugs.
Gen. Oscar Albayalde’s resignation is considered a major blow to President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown that has resulted in almost 7,000 alleged drug addicts and drug users being killed during the past three years, according to police figures.
“After careful thought and deliberation, I have come to the decision to relinquish my post today and go on non-duty status,” Albayalde said in a statement delivered during a flag-raising ceremony.
He said he decided to quit after a meeting during the weekend with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who had advised him to step down in the wake of the recent Senate inquiry where police generals testified against him.
The resignation effective Monday comes weeks ahead of Albayalde’s scheduled retirement next month.
“Since I am retiring compulsorily on Nov. 8, 2019, this will pave the way for the appointment of my replacement, should the president so desire,” he said.
During Senate investigations over the past two weeks, two former police generals testified Albayalde sought to intervene in the dismissal of 13 police officers charged in connection with a 2013 anti-drug operation in northern Pampanga province.
One of the accusers claimed Albayalde, who was the provincial police chief at that time, had said he received a portion of drug money seized.
Police investigators said Albayalde’s men conspired to present for news photographers that they had seized only a fraction of the methamphetamine confiscated – 38 kilograms (83.6 pounds) instead of 200 kilograms (440 pounds) – then sold the rest of the prohibited stimulant.
One of Albayalde’s accusers, Benjamin Magalong, a retired general who once headed the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and is mayor of a northern city, initially accused the police chief of involvement during a closed-door Senate session.
Magalong said he was asked by police leadership to carry out an investigation after officers involved in the bust appeared to acquire sudden wealth and bought new sports utility vehicles.
The other former general, Rudy Lacadin, alleged that Albayalde called him and tried to influence the investigation. He claimed Albayalde admitted receiving “only a little” from the officers involved in the controversial drug sting.
Albayalde vehemently denied the accusations and threatened to sue his accusers in court.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo on Monday said Duterte had no hand in Albayalde’s decision to resign. Duterte previously said he was monitoring the Senate investigation, but emphasized that Albayalde should be given time to explain.
“He wants to spare the entire organization from whatever speculation, bad or false, about shame in the organization,” Panelo told reporters.
The spokesman said he did not expect Albayalde’s resignation to affect the 170,000-member police organization, although some in police hierarchy previously talked about demoralization among their ranks after the latest turn of events.
Allegations tainted Albayalde’s service, senator says
Opposition Sen. Franklin Drilon said the resignation would not save Albayalde from any future liability, underscoring the allegations tainted the police chief’s last days in office.
“His continued stay as PNP chief has become untenable,” said Drilon, who was among the first to call for Albayalde’s resignation amid the controversy.
“His resignation ahead of his mandatory retirement, however, will not in any way clear him from his liability, both administratively or criminally,” he said.
Drilon said during the Senate hearings Albayalde failed to condemn his men in the face of overwhelming evidence, indicating “complicity to the criminal conduct of his men.”
Drilon, a former justice secretary, said the only logical conclusion as to why Albayalde protected his men was because he “may have had a hand in the cover-up” that followed.
He said the developments likely would spur the Senate to push for amendments in current laws to make recycling or reselling confiscated drugs punishable with life imprisonment.
Richard Gordon, Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman, said he received phone messages from other unnamed police generals who backed the Senate investigation and favored Albayalde’s resignation.
“I think he was also under pressure from the academy,” he said, referring to the elite Philippine Military Academy which places a premium on an “honor code.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a member of the opposition, also welcomed Albayalde’s decision to relinquish his post, saying it was the appropriate thing to do.
“However, this is not closure. It does not mean the issue is already finished,” Hontiveros said in a statement. “May this aid us all in our collective effort to continue to ferret out the truth, hold all responsible accountable and redeem the tarnished image and reputation of our police force.”