Barely 24 hours after the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) resumed their anti-drug operations, an alleged big-time drug pusher, who allegedly got his supply from a Lapu-Lapu City Jail prisoner, was killed along with his two bodyguards in a drug bust in Danao City in northern Cebu.
Julius Gacita, 42, and his two companions — Dexter Giango, 38, and Edwin Oriendo, 34, — were killed after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds on the different parts of their body during a shootout with the Danao City police.
Senior Insp. Alejandro Batobalonos, chief of the Danao City Police Office (DCPO), said they placed Gacita under surveillance for a month before they staged the buy-bust operation at his apartment in Sitio Libon, Barangay Guinsay at around 2 a.m. on Tuesday.
However, when Gacita and his companions realized that they were transacting with a policeman who acted as a drug buyer, “they then fired their KG-9 machine gun (at the policemen) and it resulted to a shootout,” Batobalonos said in Cebuano.
Just like a movie
Several residents of Sitio Libon, including the caretaker of the apartment rented by Gacita, affirmed it was a shootout.
Jonalyn Umban, the caretaker, described the scene like that of a movie where the suspects and the policemen traded shots for over a minute.
“Sobra to baynte ka boto gyud. Unang nadungog nako nga pagboto kadto gyud sa machine gun,” Umban said.
(I heard more than 20 gun shots. I first heard shots fired from a machine gun.)
Analyn Arididon said she was still awake and was entertaining a visitor sometime around 1:30 a.m. when they heard bursts of gunfire, first from what seemed like a machine gun, coming from the banana field, which was just five meters away from her house.
The banana field, where the three suspects were killed, was also just meters away from the apartment rented by Gacita.
Residents in the area said they did not know any of the three slain drug suspects.
Gacita, together with Giango, rented a one-room unit in the apartment owned by Sonia Martonia.
In an interview with Cebu Daily News, Martonia said Gacita had been renting her unit since October last year.
But she said she initially had no idea that Gacita was dealing illegal drugs even if there were people who came in and out of his room.
“Diha na man ko nagduda nga daghan na kaayo magtapok sa iyahang kwarto ug sa gawas sa gate. Mga motor mag-gather diha. Mao to ako siyang giingnan nga dili na pwede makasulod ang mga bisita niya sa iyahang kwarto, ari na lang sa gawas,” Martonia said.
(I started having doubts when so many people had been gathering in his room and at the gate of the apartment. There were also motorcycles that gathered outside. That was why I told him that his visitors were no longer allowed to go inside the room and should only remain outside.)
Other residents in the area told CDN that they only saw Gacita at night.
Gacita hailed from Carmen, the town that adjoins Danao City, but had been allegedly trading illegal drugs in Danao City even before the police involvement in the war against illegal drugs was suspended last month, according to Batobalonos.
Gacita’s illegal drugs operation had been in the police radar since early this year, but the monitoring was cut short after Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa ordered the suspension of the PNP campaign against illegal drugs.
“Pagkasuspenso sa war on drugs, nibalik siya, ug pagbalik niya, dinagko na iyahang pagbaligya,” Batobalonos said.
(When the police war on drugs was suspended, he went back to peddling drugs and he began dealing in bigger amounts of drugs.)
At the time of his death, Gacita was tagged as a level 2 drug dealer, who can dispose of at least 200 grams of shabu per week, valued at P600,000.
Gacita was always accompanied by heavily armed bodyguards when he moved around. Giango and Oriendo were just two of five body guards who were always with Gacita, said Batobalonos.
Drugs supplied by prisoner?
Recovered from the possession of the three suspects were nine medium and small sachets of white crystalline substance believed to be shabu (methamphetamine) weighing 25 grams, valued at P300,664.
Aside from shabu and drug paraphernalia, police also recovered a .45 pistol, 38 revolver and KG-9 submachine gun.
Based on Danao police intelligence reports, Gacita got his supply of drugs from a detainee of the Lapu-Lapu City Jail named Jesus Tabla.
Batobalonos said they still have to verify if Tabla has been Gacita’s long-time drug supplier since drug pushers usually find other sources when they fail to pay their old suppliers.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) Director Yogi Filemon Ruiz refused to give any statement when asked if Tabla is in their drugs watch list.
“No comment,” he said.
But Supt. Gil Inopia, Lapu-Lapu City Jail warden, told CDN by phone yesterday that they did not find anything suspicious about the movements of Joseph Tabla, who is also known as Jesus Tabla.
He said he ordered his jail officers to conduct a surprise inspection at Tabla’s cell but found no evidence linking him to the illegal drugs trade.
According to Inopia, he talked to Tabla and the latter denied that he knew Gacita or supplied drugs to the latter. He said Tabla even denied selling illegal drugs with his live-in partner when they were arrested in a drug operation in February 2016 in Lapu-Lapu City.
But Inopia said Tabla admitted his son, whom he did not name, was involved in illegal drugs and people might have mistaken him as the financier and source of illegal drugs.
Why the chapel
Inopia explained that Tabla is 70 years old and was just allowed along with other elderly prisoners to sleep at the jail’s chapel because the cell where he is assigned to is congested.
About a hundred of them were allowed to sleep at the grill-enclosed chapel inside the jail’s compound. Most of them were elderly and those having health problems. They are only allowed to sleep at the chapel after the body count at 6 p.m. and return to their respective cells during day time.
Inopia said the Lapu-Lapu City Jail, which is operated by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), is extremely overcrowded with 1,8470 inmates in a jail built for only 150 prisoners.
He, however, said that they would be able to decongest the jail soon with the approval by the BJMP of a P16 million budget to build a four-storey building inside the jail compound. Construction will begin this year, he said.
He said they also requested the city government of Lapu-Lapu to fund the installation of more CCTV cameras, but this was placed under the long-term plan projects and could not be realized immediately.