How ‘ninja’ cops evolved from scaling walls to recycling drugs

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2019 10:20 PM

MANILA—Police scalawags making money by reselling confiscated illegal drugs are known as “ninjas,” a term that referred to their predecessors’ ability to carry out some of the most daring operations in the 90s.

The name was first attached to a tightly knit group of anti-narcotics agents at the Manila Police District, who scaled walls to penetrate drug laboratories hidden in exclusive villages, according to a former police official who once served as their team leader in the 2000s.

“Kaya sila naging ninja,” he told ABS-CBN News, saying he wanted to differentiate between the practice of old and the sheer shenanigans of today’s “ninja” cops.

[That’s how they became known as ‘ninja.’]

Back then, he said the team made do with little funding from the police organization, relying instead on “resourcefulness” to cover for food, gas, and other operational expenses.

“Pag naging successful ang trabaho, kailangan bawiin nila yung nagastos nila. Pera nila yun, di ba?” said the ex-team leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.

[If the operation was successful, they had to recoup their expenses. That’s their money, right?]

So the agents, he said, made sure to keep a portion of confiscated cash during a drug bust, but with the strict understanding that they would “reimburse” only what they had actually spent based on a detailed list.

“Nung na-meet ko sila, tawag na sa kanila, ninja,” he recalled.

[When I met them, they were already called ‘ninjas.’]

RESELLING DRUGS

Part of the amount was also used for subsequent operations. But in cases where no money was seized during a drug raid, he replied: “Eh di shabu.”

Agents kept some of the meth to sell back in the streets to predetermined buyers, he said, but claimed that the team made sure to recover the drugs later on.

“Hindi makita yan ng tao ngayon pero ganito gagawin nila—bebentahan ka nila. Syempre magbabayad ka. Pag nakuha nila yung pera, trabahuhin ka nila uli,” he said.

[People don’t realize it but here’s how it worked—they would sell and of course, you’d pay. Once they got the money, they’d work to arrest you.]

“So huhulihin ka nila. Babawiin nila yung shabu.”

[So they’d nab you and recover the drugs.]

Keeping part of the haul even with supposedly noble intentions was prone to abuses, the former officer acknowledged.

“As I understood from their story (in the 90s), may tinanggal silang mga team members nila dahil ganun, there’s this part na medyo greedy na,” he said.

[They removed some members of the team who became greedy.]

EVOLUTION

But with virtually no institutional check then, the practice was apparently picked up by other police operatives from their retired colleagues, until it evolved into the illegal drug recycling known today.

“Ngayon kasi baligtad. Kung nakahuli sila ng 10 kilos, yung 2 kilos idi-declare nila. Yung 8 kilos, itatago nila, ibebenta nila,” the ex-team leader said.

[Nowadays, it’s different. Say they seized 10 kilos of illegal drugs, they’d declare 2 kilos then resell the rest.]

One of the biggest drug “recycling” operations came in 2013 when a team of policemen in Pampanga province allegedly seized 200 kilograms of shabu from a Chinese drug lord, but declared a haul of only 36 kilos.

Members of the team were initially ordered dismissed but were merely demoted.

A Senate investigation accused Gen. Oscar Albayalde of protecting his former subordinates in Pampanga, in a scandal that resulted in him stepping down as Philippine National Police chief Monday, ahead of his Nov. 8 retirement.

Albayalde has denied the allegation.

RELENTLESS

Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, the PNP’s officer in charge, insisted that the organization had been “relentless” in ridding its ranks of “ninja cops.”

“Ang priority kasi ng gobyerno ngayon is illegal drugs so dapat malinis tayo doon... so [the people] will believe in our campaign,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

[Our government’s priority is to eliminate illegal drugs so we have to be clean.]

Gamboa cited the need to pour in more financial support and resources to the PNP’s counter-intelligence unit to identify policemen recycling illegal drugs.

Rotating those assigned to anti-drug units can also minimize their exposure to the temptation to make money out of seized narcotics, the general said.

But removing such officers after a short period can also “sacrifice efficiency” because of intelligence networks already built over time, he said.