SC sentences ex-top cop, lackey to life in prison over La Union shabu lab

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The Supreme Court (SC) has sentenced a former Philippine National Police (PNP) regional executive and a subordinate to life in prison and ordered them to each pay a P10-million fine, finding them guilty of direct involvement in a La Union shabu laboratory that was raided in 2008.

In its recent 19-page decision, the SC 3rd Division granted the petition of state prosecutors to convict both Supt. Dionisio Borromeo and SPO1 Joey Abang as drug manufacturing conspirators and not just as coddlers.

Besides the maximum prison sentence and the heavy fine, the SC also perpetually disqualified the two from public office.

All in all, the SC imposed harsher penalties than those meted out by the lower courts.

The case concerned the operations of a piggery in Barangay Upper Bimmotobot, Naguilian municipality, that turned out to be a clandestine shabu laboratory. Borromeo at the time served as head of the PNP regional mobile group.

Caretaker Dante Palaganas, who was arrested during the July 2008 raid, became a state witness.

Palaganas testified that Borromeo instructed him to secure the secluded lot for his business, meet with Joselito Artuz and three unnamed Chinese associates, and omit his name from the transactions.

As for Abang, Palaganas said the policeman closely monitored him, inquired about his activities, and even threatened to kill him if he failed to do his job.

The Bauang Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 67 in its June 13, 2013 decision found Borromeo guilty as a conspirator and sentenced him to suffer life imprisonment and pay a P10-million fine.

But, the trial court only held Abang liable as a coddler and imposed the less serious penalties of 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a P500,000 fine. It also did not impose the penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification.

The Court of Appeals (CA) punished both Borromeo and Abang as coddlers. It lessened Borromeo’s sentence—and extended Abang’s—to 17 years and four months to 20 years in prison. They were both ordered to pay a P500,000 fine. Unlike the trial court, the CA imposed the penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification.

The CA only held the two policemen as coddlers because the information filed by prosecutors initially described Borromeo’s role that way. This was despite finding that the evidence showed Borromeo’s active participation as a conspirator in the illegal operations.

The SC said the CA erred in doing so. Even if the information used the word “coddler” to explain Borromeo’s role, the SC “considers the terminology as immaterial there being a clear finding of conspiracy.”

“The use of the words “protector” or “coddler” should not be taken to mean that his liability as co-conspirator is automatically negated or reduced,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr.

The SC noted that Borromeo did not only protect the shabu manufacturers or facilitate their escape. He actually monitored the operations through Palaganas and gave him specific instructions.

As for Abang, the SC disagreed with the lower courts that he was merely acting on his boss’s orders.

The fact that he ensured the orderly operations of the laboratory and forced Palaganas to keep doing his job made him a co-conspirator and not just a coddler, the SC said.

“SPO1 Abang’s participation ensured the success of the operations of the clandestine shabu laboratory. As such, he cannot be considered a mere accessory to the involvement of P/Supt. Borromeo,” read the decision.

The SC reminded the police of their mandate to enforce the law, prevent and control crimes, maintain peace and order, and ensure public safety and internal security.

“Police officers, like the private respondents, in the guise of law protecting officials, are conspicuous examples or wolves in sheep’s clothing. As members of the police force, it is their topmost priority to protect the people and uphold the law, but instead, they took advantage of their power and position to satisfy their own greed,” the decision ended.

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