ONE of the men accused of operating a shabu laboratory in Mandaue City in 2004 testified yesterday that the real brains of the operation is the state’s witness in the case.

Calvin Tan, responding to cross-examination by state prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, said he only met Hung Ching Chang or Simon Lao in a casino, but had no other business transactions with him.

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The defense also presented, apart from Tan, Rodolfo Solon. He said he sold acetone, an ingredient in the manufacture of shabu, to a man whom the defense described as an agent of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

In September 2004, Lao and 10 other men were arrested by a police and PDEA team, allegedly for operating a laboratory that produced methamphetamine in Barangay Umapad.

When he applied to become a state witness, Lao testified he was only an errand boy of Tan, who he said was the financier. Lao said he used to travel to Macau to meet with Tan about renting warehouses where they could manufacture shabu.

But in yesterday’s hearing presided by Regional Trial Court Judge Marlyn Lagura-Yap, Tan told prosecutor Navera about the extent of his relationship with Lao.

Tan said he never met Lao directly, but only through Patrick Ang. Tan told the court he used to lend cash to casino players, but that Lao was not among them.

Asked what time they usually met, Tan said he usually saw Lao playing around midnight in a casino in Macau.

He testified with the assistance of an interpreter, whom the judge commended for “grace in the face of hardship.”

Also yesterday, Solon took the witness stand to confirm he sold acetone to Francis Mutuc, allegedly a PDEA agent.

State prosecutor Archimedes Manabat showed what he described as “discrepancies” between the photocopy of the receipts and other duplicates.

Defense lawyer Gloria Dalawampu presented four photocopies of receipts from Jesle Marketing Corp. and Solon said he issued these receipts to Mutuc.

After the hearing, Dalawampu showed reporters an agent’s agreement signed by Mutuc and PDEA 9 Deputy Director Adzhar Albani.

The photocopies showed that purchases ranged from P20,800 for 560 liters of acetone, to P55,000.

To confirm the receipts’ authenticity, Solon compared the photocopies of the receipts with duplicate and triplicate copies. The court does not have the originals.

When it was Manabat’s turn to cross-examine, he pointed to Solon some differences in the photocopy and the duplicate and triplicate copies.

Manabat said the name “Francis Mutuc” only appeared on two of the photocopies, while the duplicate and triplicate copies only have the marks “Sold to Francis M” or “Sold to C.”

Solon also said he has already forgotten Mutuc’s face. He is not sure if the man he dealt with was the real Francis Mutuc, because he did not ask for an identification card during their transactions.

“So there is a possibility that that Francis M. is Francis Magalona,” said one of the defense lawyers, Hector Fernandez, which provoked laughter in the courtroom.

After the hearing, Manabat told Sun.Star Cebu that the name “Francis Mutuc” was added to the photocopies of the receipts and that the amounts were changed.

Dalawampu, however, insisted that Mutuc works with PDEA.

In the end the judge praised the smiling interpreter as still having the “grace in the face of hardship”.

The cross-examination will continue in February.