SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga—President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog that he might lose his life if he does not stop protecting the illegal drug trade, then announced the transfer of a police inspector who was in charge of operations that left two mayors dead.
“Now, while nothing is happening, you might want to end your drug connections,” Duterte said, addressing Mabilog in Filipino.
“Just be a drug lord. You’ll earn billions. But in exchange, you’ll die. Let’s not kid around,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Duterte said he wondered if Mabilog could suffer the same fate as Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Jr., both of whom died in anti-drug operations supervised by Chief Supt. Jovie Espenido.
“Espenido, where are you? I will ask you again, you asked for the assignment in Leyte,” he said in a speech at the National Heroes Day commemoration at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. “You asked for another assignment in Ozamiz. Now, you want to be assigned to Iloilo because Mabilog has been identified as a protector-mayor. Will he remain alive?”
Towards the end of his speech, Duterte announced he was sending Espenido, whom he awarded the Magalong Medal, Order of Lapu-Lapu, to the Western Visayas city.
“He is a dedicated man,” said Duterte of Espenido in a chance interview. “He knows his law. So he should replicate his exploits in other parts of the country. He wants to be assigned in Iloilo, I will assign him there.”
Duterte reminded Espenido to “follow the rules of engagement” and that “murder and homicide or whatever unlawful killing is not allowed.”
In a radio interview, Espenido said that he was not surprised by the President’s announcement as he gave an early warning to Mabilog.
“See you in Iloilo,” Espenido said.
He added that is never his style to rely on rumors, speculation and second-hand information.
“On my own, I really work so I myself can be sure that there are illegal drugs,” he said in Filipino.
Espenido added he constantly receives information on people engaged in narcotics trade, yet he considers these reports as mere leads in the campaign against drug lords.
In previous speeches, Duterte alleged that Iloilo province is a bedrock of illegal drug trading in the Visayas region—an allegation already denied by local officials.
Espenido earlier led the raids on the houses of the Parojinog clan in July that led to the death of Parojinog and 14 others.
Before that, he was police chief of Albuera, Leyte, when Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed in a police raid in his jail cell inside the sub-provincial prison in Baybay City.
Mabilog welcomed Espenido’s assignment to his city.
“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,” the Iloilo City mayor, a second cousin to Senator Franklin Drilon, told the Panay News.
“I am sure that we could learn something about his anti-drug strategy, including the identification of new players and where are they hiding,” he said in Filipino.
Drilon said given Espenido’s track record, his appointment to Iloilo City was a “cause for concern.”
Nevertheless, Drilon said, “the peace-loving, cultured, and law abiding Ilongos welcome him to Iloilo City.”
The President named Mabilog as a drug protector and called Iloilo the capital of the drug trade, and said the province was “the most shabulized” in the country.
Earlier this month, Mabilog said his city is drug-free despite Duterte’s pronouncement. However, the mayor conceded he could not help but worry following the deaths of Espinosa and Parojinog.
The name of Espenido hogged the headlines following the death of Espinosa, father of the alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin, who was shot inside his jail cell in Baybay City, Leyte.
Espenido was also the police commander of Albuera, Leyte when Espinosa Sr. was killed in what the National Bureau of Investigation called a rubout inside the jail.
Espinosa and Kerwin were among the drug suspects tagged by Duterte. The President even gave them an ultimatum to surrender. The mayor heeded Duterte’s call but still died in his cell.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he trusts Espenido knows what to do.
Despite the President’s obvious threat, Lacson said, it was Espenido’s responsibility to uphold the rule of law and follow the rules of engagement.
“I knew him as a focused, diligent and upright police non commissioned officer when he was working with me at the defunct PAOCTF [Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force] 17 years ago,” said Lacson, a former police chief.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III rejected Drilon’s assertion that Espenido’s designation as Iloilo City police chief was a cause for alarm.
“Not at all. All the local officials have to do is stay away clear of illegal drugs. Nothing to worry about. Unless they insist and fight back, then that’s their problem,” Sotto said.
Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said Mabilog had nothing to fear with the assignment of Espenido to his city.
Dela Rosa said the mayor should only be frightened if he is doing something illegal.
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