ARAYAT, Pampanga: President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday publicly apologized for mistakenly including three Pangasinan officials in his controversial “drug matrix,” and cleared them of links to the drug trade.
Duterte on August 25 revealed a drug matrix linking Sen. Leila de Lima, a former Justice secretary, former
Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd and other officials to the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
On Tuesday, over a month since the release of the matrix, the President said former Pangasinan governor and now Rep. Amado Espino, Baraan’s brother, dismissed Pangasinan provincial administrator Rafael Baraan, and Urbiztondo, Pangasinan board member Raul Sison were erroneously included in the matrix prepared by intelligence officials.
“Insofar in the drugs, somehow we were negligent in the counterchecking. Espino, Sison, [Undersecretary] Baraan’s brother, I would like to apologize to you publicly. I am sorry,” Duterte said in a speech after inspecting the alleged “mega-shabu” laboratory here.
The three officials were earlier mentioned by the President as having conspired with de Lima in the illicit drug trade inside the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.
In the drug matrix, Espino was said to have been tagged by Sison as “the richest politician in Northern Luzon.” Espino allegedly used Rafael Baraan to cover all his illegal activities.
The President said: “I cannot be perfect and sometimes you are correct when you say that life is never fair.”
But he maintained that de Lima and former Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd were involved in the drug trade.
Espino, Pangasinan governor from 2007 to 2016, heaped praises on Duterte.
“My family, friends and the people of Pangasinan would like to express our gratitude to the President for being a true leader and gentleman. He has my highest esteem for the courageous and bold statement of apology on clearing my name, Raffy Baraan and Raul Sison,” Espino said in a statement.
“Let me reassure the President of my sincere and relentless support on his anti-drug and peace and order campaign which had always been my campaign message for the past six elections,” he added.
Duterte and Espino were said to have met on August 30, with the President assuring the Pangasinan politician that the matrix would be revalidated.
“I kept my silence for the past three weeks as I know beyond reasonable doubt that I am not guilty of this allegation. Although my family and the people of Pangasinan were saddened by this unprecedented accusation, we remained steadfast on our respect and high regard on the discretion of the President and relied completely on his promised revalidation,” Espino said.
Espino is a member of Duterte’s political party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.
Drugs, no; black sand, yes
Duterte said he spent several nights studying the three officials’ connection with the Bilibid drug trade, but he said there was a gap that he could not explain. The three were likely the subject of rumors and hearsay, he said.
Ronnie Dayan, the driver-bodyguard claimed by Duterte to have been de Lima’s lover and bagman, is a native of Urbiztondo. De Lima is also alleged to have bought property for Dayan in the Pangasinan town.
Duterte however noted that Espino and Rafael Baraan were involved in a separate case involving illegal black sand mining at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
“If we talk about black-sand mining, there’s probable cause, but to stretch it further to involve them [in drugs], I studied it for several nights … I couldn’t see the connection, it is not really very clear to me,” he said.
The President also said he, not the intelligence personnel who prepared the matrix, was fully responsible for the mistake since he was the one who released it to the public. He said he was willing to be charged in court.
“But my answer to the judge would really be something like, ‘Nagkamali ako [I was mistaken]. I am sorry but I have to inform the people immediately so that they can take regard of their surroundings and prevent the contamination of drugs,’” Duterte said.
“I’m willing to swallow my pride unlike the others, if I’m wrong. I have a dirty mouth but when I commit a mistake, it comes from the heart, I am very sorry,” he added.
Duterte said he will publicly name more officials linked to drugs, mostly barangay (village) chairmen, mayors, governors and congressmen, once he comes back from his trip to Vietnam.