The many faces of Peter Joemel Advincula

The public first saw him in a series of videos posted on social media as the hooded guy who called himself “Bikoy.”  He told a story that was potentially damaging to the nation’s highest authority. Bikoy claimed that people very close to the President were regular recipients of drug protection money. He knew this, he said, because he had been part of the drug syndicate. His conscience bothered him so much, he claimed, that he was compelled to come out. He also feared for his life.

After the videos went viral, a man purporting to be Bikoy showed up at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), seeking legal  assistance so he could file charges against the persons he named in the video exposé. Officers of the lawyers’ organization politely received him even though they were shocked that the man seeking their help seemed more concerned to make a statement to media using the IBP logo as backdrop. The IBP later decided not to offer him legal assistance.

This was Peter Joemel Advincula’s first public appearance as himself. When he vanished after that visit to the IBP, people began to wonder what this man was up to, what his next move was, and what his whole game plan meant to achieve. The lightning appearance at the IBP obviously made it easy for the police to track him down. As it turned out, he had a previous criminal record. The police pounced on this to discredit the figure behind the videos. Advincula, they announced, had been in jail for fraud, and there was a pending arrest warrant for him in connection with another case.

The Philippine National Police, from the start, showed no interest in investigating the allegations of the “Bikoy” exposé. Still, they could not decide whether to dismiss the man as a fraudster who had taken the public for a ride with his viral videos about a supposed “true narcolist”—or to hunt him down as a dangerous man who had in his possession information that was damaging to the presidency.


Then, all of a sudden, Advincula surrendered to the police. The PNP instantly called a press conference. But, what a bizarre scenario that was. Unlike those instances when the police would present to media a wanted man they have been looking for — usually a bowed and contrite figure desperately shielding his face from the camera — this time, they let their man speak from a podium with all the self-assuredness he could command, as though he were addressing not just the assembled reporters but the whole nation. PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde rationalizes this absurd spectacle as a recognition of this fraudster’s right to freedom of speech.

Advincula’s glib peroration about the shifting calls of his conscience and the way the opposition supposedly manipulated him, while the camera panned the grave faces of the PNP’s top brass behind him, was a scene straight out of “Sic o’clock News,” the satirical TV show of the late ’80s. It is best to let farcical spectacles like these speak for themselves. But, as absurd as they are, they open up a lot of intriguing questions.

It is clear to me that Peter Joemel Advincula is not the whistleblower he earlier projected himself to be. But even so, the story he told in those videos is difficult to dismiss as outright fabrication. Though hard to prove under present circumstances, it carried a certain plausibility that made audiences sit up to ponder the scandal it implied. If untrue, the narrative that Bikoy mouthed could only have been put together by con men familiar with the complex reality of the illicit drug trade.

Who the original handlers of Advincula were and what exactly their motives were remain open questions. I refuse to believe that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, whom Advincula tags as the mastermind behind all this, would have been so naïve as to concoct a tale like this and get a charlatan like Advincula to tell it. What is likely is that the con men behind Advincula tried to enlist people in the opposition, the Church, academe and the media into their project to give it credibility. It’s also possible that well-meaning individuals who felt an instinctive solidarity for whistleblowers may have given Advincula assistance at some point.

It did cross my mind that the plan might have been originally conceived to bait the opposition into using Bikoy’s revelations to spark a political crisis, staking their credibility in the process. Then, at the right moment, the whole story would be pronounced as a sham that a desperate opposition had unthinkingly swallowed. But, this, too, seemed farfetched.

So, who could be behind Advincula? I don’t think the President or any of his close associates would have been so stupid as to weave, for whatever reason, a tale that entails the airing of those damaging videos about the involvement of his immediate family in the drug trade. If it’s not the opposition or the administration, who would be capable of mounting something like this? We don’t know, but I believe they would have to be people with a rich background in police work and extensive links to the criminal underworld.

Indeed, so far as motive is concerned, the intended addressee or client might have been Mr. Duterte himself. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who knows the dark side of police culture, has the same theory. Here’s a quote from a Philippine Star report (5/24/19): “Earlier, Lacson said five to six ranking police officials were among the handlers of Advincula. He, however, refused to divulge the identities of the officials, noting that some of them have already retired from the police service. Lacson said the police officials’ motive was apparently to get the attention of President Duterte and gain some favors.” Fascinating.