Updated 19:08 PM PHT Tue, March 21, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A mix-up.
That's what Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald Dela Rosa said was to blame for his failure to read the letter that Vice President Leni Robredo sent him and Interior Secretary Mike Sueno.
In that letter, Robredo had requested the PNP for data on the government's war on drugs.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Dela Rosa confirmed that his office did receive the letter, sent way back in January.
However, his staff immediately forwarded it to Sueno — not noticing that Dela Rosa was also a recipient. Sueno was the letter's addressee, but so was Dela Rosa, although that note was written in smaller print.
"Nung pumasok ang letter na 'yan doon sa message center ng Office of the Chief PNP, nakita addressed to Secretary Sueno," he said. "Ang ginawa, ibinaba dito sa opisina ni Secretary Sueno. Hindi inilagay sa table ko para mabasa ko. Di niya nakita yung maliit na nakasulat: CC Chief PNP."
[Translation: When the letter came into the message center of the Office of the Chief PNP, they saw it was addressed to Secretary Sueno. What they did was to bring it down to the office of Secretary Sueno. They didn't put it on my table so that I could read it. They didn't see the little note saying: CC Chief PNP.]
In a Monday press conference, Robredo's staff had said they received no response from Dela Rosa after they sent him the letter.
In spite of the mix-up, Dela Rosa said they still sent a copy of the letter to the concerned PNP unit that can provide the data that Robredo was requesting.
He added the data was forwarded to Sueno's office.
Meanwhile, Sueno explained in his own statement on Tuesday that Robredo's letter to him was forwarded to Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary for Public Order Catalino Cuy.
Cuy, in turn, forwarded the request to the PNP.
"Wala namang tinatago ang PNP [The PNP isn't hiding anything] and, in fact, we have always been transparent about Oplan Tokhang and we have been providing the public regular updates about Tokhang operations through the media," he said.
He also said the DILG-PNP leadership is open to suggestions from stakeholders on how to effectively win the war against drugs.
The government relaunched its anti-drug campaign on March 6 after it was suspended by President Rodrigo Duterte due to cases of police abuse.
The 'palit-ulo' scheme
Dela Rosa also clarified that Robredo's letter did not ask about the alleged 'palit-ulo' scheme. The Tagalog term literally means "exchange of heads" — but it refers to exchanging one person for another.
"Humingi siya ng list para masagot niya ang concerns na nire-raise sa kanya ng taumbayan na nakausap niya," he said. "That's it. Humingi lang siya ng list, pero she didn't ask for explanation or clarification about the 'palit-ulo' scheme."
[Translation: She asked for a list of data so that she could answer concerns that the public are raising to her about the war on drugs. That's it. She asked for a list, but she didn't ask for any explanation or clarification about the 'palit-ulo' scheme.]
In a video message she sent to the 60th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on March 16, Robredo said targets of police anti-drug operations are beaten up when they ask for a search warrant. And worse, their relatives are detained as collateral in a 'palit-ulo' scheme if they go into hiding.
The Office of the Vice President's media officer Divine Magno told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that actual victims come to them with these stories asking for help.
Dela Rosa confirmed Monday that there was a 'palit-ulo' scheme, but not as Robredo thought it was.
"Palit-ulo, wherein ikaw nahuli kita, may drugs, pusher ka... Palit-ulo," he said. "Ilaglag mo kung sino ang supplier mo o drug lord na nasa taas. Kapag masabi mo 'yan, hindi naman actually palalayain, depende na kung for a lesser offense."
[Translation: Palit-ulo, wherein if you are a pusher or caught with drugs, you will reveal to the police the supplier or drug lord you are reporting to. If you reveal them to us, we will not necessarily let you go, but you may be charged for a lesser offense.]
Meanwhile, Sueno denied that there is a 'palit-ulo' scheme in the PNP.
"What 'Palit-Ulo'?" he said. "There is no such thing as 'Palit-Ulo' in the anti-drugs operations of the PNP. I respectfully request the Vice President to please corroborate her statement."
Sueno urged Robredo to show proof of her allegations, so that they could act on them immediately.