Bikoy and the PNP

When the series of videos titled “Ang Totoong Narcolist” were first released on social media in April this year, the initial response of the Philippine National Police was neither here nor there. They were obviously caught flat-footed, as surprised as everyone else by the sudden appearance of these shocking videos, which purported to expose the principal protectors of the country’s illegal drug trade. Some of the names mentioned were those of members of President Duterte’s immediate family and close political allies.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo dutifully dismissed the allegations in these videos as nothing but “black propaganda,” labeling the hooded whistleblower who voiced them as a “pawn.” It was from Panelo that the police took their cue. Hence, their first move was to discredit the videos, rather than to find out if there was anything in them worth investigating. Since no one filed a complaint, there was no duty to investigate.

Instead of checking the information in the documents presented even if only in a cursory way, they seemed determined to find out where the videos were coming from. This led them to the website Metrobalita, where the videos allegedly originally appeared. There they found Rodel Jayme, a nerdy-looking young man, and promptly arrested him. The police thought that, as webmaster of the site, he could lead them to the narrator of the videos, the mysterious figure who called himself “Bikoy.”  Jayme cried that he had neither seen this man nor did he know him from Adam.

Following the arrest of Jayme, a man identifying himself as Peter Joemel Advincula visited the main offices of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in Pasig City, seeking legal assistance. He claimed he was Bikoy, the narrator of the controversial videos, and that he had come to get help in filing the appropriate criminal complaint against the individuals he named in the videos.

He told reporters that he had once worked for the country’s biggest drug syndicate based in a luxury hotel in Bicol, where he had a direct acquaintance with the procedure for making regular payments to drug protectors. He showed the list of recipients and documents of bank transfers and other papers. For some reason, his visit to the IBP did not amount to anything.

But, by going public and revealing his true name, Advincula made it easy for the police to track him down. They wasted no time in compiling a profile of the man they had been looking for, a profile that had only one purpose—to impugn his credibility. They dug up his criminal record and came up with the revelation that the hooded character behind the videos was actually a professional fraudster.

This is how Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde depicted him to the media on May 7, barely two weeks before Advincula turned himself to the police: “Mukhang magaling siyang mang-estafa at magaling siyang magsalita. Just imagine being charged for large-scale recruitment. Ibig sabihin, ang dami niyang niloko.”

Albayalde also revealed that Advincula previously served six years in prison for being involved in illegal recruitment. He was supposedly released for good behavior, but that he could be rearrested any time for another case pending before the National Bureau of Investigation. On top of this, once it is proven that Advincula is alias “Bikoy,” Albayalde said he could also be charged with cyberlibel. This was a clear signal that the police were bent on putting Advincula under their custody.

On May 22, 16 days after he unsuccessfully sought help from the IBP, Advincula surrendered to the police, accompanied by relatives who had contacts in the PNP. The following day, May 23, alias “Bikoy” faced the media once more—this time with the top brass of the police behind him. As I noted in a previous column, the Kafkaesque police-sponsored press con was as surreal as the police institution in a benighted society could possibly get. A convicted felon, previously denounced by the police as a professional con artist, was being given full control of the podium to testify against the “plotters” who allegedly hired him.

Glib and self-assured as before, Advincula, alias Bikoy, recanted everything in the videos that he had presented with so much conviction. He said he had been promised payment for his services, but that his conscience bothered him. He claimed that the video project was a brainchild of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the Liberal Party. It was produced, he said, at the Jesuit Communications Center in Ateneo de Manila after a series of secret meetings with key leaders of the political opposition, and some priests and prelates. (My brother, Bishop Pablo “Ambo” David of the Diocese of Kalookan, the epicenter of the drug killings, is among those who have been implicated in the complaint recently filed by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.)

The transformation of Peter Joemel Advincula from a supposed whistleblower against drug protectors into a police witness against critics of the Duterte administration is no longer surprising. If we care to look back, we might realize this is the same template that was used against Sen. Leila de Lima, an elected senator of the republic, to send her to jail. Convicted drug criminals, serving time in prison for various drug offenses, were coerced and inveigled to give false testimony against her in exchange for privileges.

Where truth is relativized, he who wields coercive power determines what is true. In that kind of world, there is nothing that cannot be made to look good or bad by a simple redescription.