By Aaron Recuenco and Argyll Cyrus Geducos
It all started as a joke. And President Duterte granted Ozamiz City police director Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido’s wish – to be assigned in Iloilo, a place described by the President as a “bedrock” of illegal drugs in the Visayas.
At the National Heroes’ Day celebration yesterday at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City, the President conferred Espenido the Order of Lapu Lapu Medal of Magalong.
The Magalong Medal is conferred on officials and personnel of the government and private individuals who have rendered “extraordinary service or have made exceptional contributions to the success of an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.”
Espenido led the raid on the houses of the Parojinog clan last month which resulted in the death of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others. His two children – Vice mayor Nova Princess and a sibling are detained in Camp Crame on drugs and firearms charges.
Prior to his assignment in Ozamiz, Espenido, who has earned the moniker “narco-buster” was the police commander of Albuera, Leyte when Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed inside his cell. But it was the Criminal Investigation Detection Group (CIDG) led by Supt. Marvin Marcos who led the operation. Both Parojinog and Espinosa were linked to the illegal drug trade.
It was during his speech that President Duterte announced Espenido’s assignment.
Murder not allowed
“I will ask you again. You asked for the assignment sa (in), Leyte. Namatay ang mayor doon [sa Albuera] (The mayor in Albuera died). You asked for another assignment sa (in) Ozamiz, namatay ang mayor doon, si Parojinog (Mayor Parojinog died),” Duterte said.
“Ngayon, gusto mo sa Iloilo, kasi si (Now you want to be assigned in Iloilo because) [Mayor] Mabilog has been identified as a protector. Mabuhay kaya siya (Will he still live)?” the President said in jest.
Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog has been linked by Duterte to illegal drug operations. Shortly after, Mabilog met with Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to deny the allegations.
Duterte told newsmen he trusts Espenido.
“He is a dedicated man. He knows his law. So, he should replicate his exploits in other parts of the country. If he wants to be assigned in Iloilo, I will assign him there,” Duterte said. But he reminded Espenido to always follow the rules of engagement in police operations.
“If you do the country a favor, I will support you. And then we’ll all go to jail, do not worry,” Duterte told Espenido who stood smiling in the crowd in his white duck uniform.
“Just follow the rules of engagement, the requirements of the performance of duty, which you have learned in all those four years [in school],” he added.
The President also told Espenido to remind his men that they can only pull the trigger when their lives are in danger and in the actual performance of duty.
“Murder and homicide or whatever–unlawful killing–is not allowed,” he said.
“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting. Not only just shouting at them to surrender, because if he does not, and he resists, and it is a violent one, placing in jeopardy the lives of my policemen, and of course, the military, you are free to kill the idiot. That is my order to you,” he added.
Duterte said the police have to overcome the resistance of their quarry so they can take custody and bring him to the fold of the law.
“But if he resists, and if it is a violent one, I hate to see dead policemen and soldiers performing their duty,” Duterte stressed.
After learning about Espenido’s new assignment, Mabilog told Manila Bulletin, “I look forward to working side by side with Chief Inspector Espenido as the President’s point-man in the battle against illegal drugs in Iloilo, both city and province.”
“I am hopeful that Chief Inspector Espenido will be able to help us with the illegal drug problem. I’m sure we will learn from his experience in battling illegal drug trade and find out the new players,” Mabilog added. He said he is confident that Espenido will be able to see the real picture that the drug trade is not as bad as portrayed in the news.
Monday, President Duterte called on Mabilog anew not to protect drug lords if he is not personally involved in illegal drugs. Even in the updated drug list submitted to him, the President said Mabilog’s name continues to appear.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said, “the peace loving, cultured, and law abiding Ilonggos welcome Espenido to Iloilo City. Having said that, the assignment to Iloilo City of Espenido, nevertheless, is a cause of concern.”
The PNP chief recalled that after the Parojinog operation, Espenido mentioned during a light moment that he wanted to be assigned in Iloilo City.
Since it is already a direct order from the President, dela Rosa said Espenido’s transfer will take effect soon after finding his replacement.
But the PNP Chief directed Espenido is to focus not only on illegal drugs but also on other crimes in Iloilo City.
Dela Rosa said Mabilog has nothing to fear if he really not into the illegal drugs trade.
Meanwhile, lawmakers said the focus of the drug war should be on cutting supply.
“The illicit drug trade is about the law of supply and demand,” noted Akbayan Party-List Rep. Tom Villarin.
“If the focus is eliminating the demand by EJKs (extra judicial killings), it won’t work. It should be a comprehensive solution not a simplistic solution,” added Villarin. (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza, Ellson A. Quismorio and Tara Yap)
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