The Duterte administration’s new favorite policeman got his new marching orders in extraordinary, indeed spectacular, fashion. Called to the front in the middle of the President’s speech on National Heroes Day at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido received his new assignment.
President Duterte addressed him directly: “I will ask you again. You asked for the assignment in Leyte. The mayor there died.”
(The President was referring to Albuera Mayor Espinosa, who was executed—in the considered view of several senators investigating his death—inside his jail cell.)
“You asked for another assignment in Ozamiz,” the President continued. “The mayor there also died … the mayor there was [Reynaldo] Parojinog.”
A major police raid on the Ozamiz mayor’s residence led to his death.
“Now, you want Iloilo because [city mayor Jed] Mabilog has been identified as a protector.” Without skipping a beat, the President then asked: “Will he live?”
The President may have been indulging his sense of humor or his sense of theater (or both), but Mabilog, whom Mr. Duterte identified as early as last year as one of the many public officials involved in the illegal drugs trade, was rightly concerned.
“I am puzzled that Chief Inspector Espenido is being assigned here, and that the President has again mentioned my name. But if that is his directive, then I will work closely and cooperate with Chief Inspector Espenido in completely wiping out the remnants, if there are still any, of the illegal drugs syndicate in Iloilo City.”
He added: “I pray to God for His protection and guidance. I entrust everything unto Him. I pray that my family will always stay out of harm’s way.”
The President’s focus on Iloilo as the “most shabulized” place in the country (his words, said on Aug. 7 last year) seems to be more a matter of rhetoric rather than actual hard data.
Last year, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Iloilo City ranked 51st in the list of cities and provinces with drug-affected barangays. Iloilo province ranked 79th. (In contrast, Davao City, in 2016, ranked 20th in the country.)
Other data reported by Vera Files show that Iloilo City, one of the country’s fastest growing local economies, came in 10th among cities and provinces in number of “high-value targets,” and second in terms of number of “drug personalities arrested.”
But in August last year, the President relied on anecdotal evidence: his own experience. After identifying Iloilo officials he said were involved in narcotics, he said in a mix of English and Filipino: “When I was campaigning actually, every person there, everyone, [told him] ‘Mayor, if you can, please help us.’”
Last Monday, he did it again. “Well, I’ll tell you again, Mayor. Dinadawit ka [you have been implicated]. For the longest time, updated list, nandiyan ka [you’re in it],” Duterte said.
The President called on Mabilog to sever his alleged connections with drug lords. “In truth, now while there is nothing happening, you may want to end your connections,” Mr. Duterte addressed Mabilog through reporters.
But if, as early as August last year, the administration had the goods on Mabilog, why were no charges filed against him? If he was using his office to promote an illegal drugs culture in Iloilo City, one of the country’s major cities, why wasn’t he preventively suspended? If it were true that narcotics continued to thrive under Mabilog, why did the authorities fail to do anything after the President pinpointed the mayor?
The President’s question about Mabilog — “Will he live?” — is out of the ordinary because, even though couched as a wry joke, it can still be perceived as a threat.
Mabilog put on a brave face: “I have gone past being afraid. I know I have done what needs to be done to stop illegal drugs in the city. If I didn’t do enough in the past, I am truly remorseful.”
If the evidence is there, the administration should file the appropriate charges. Otherwise, drop the threats.
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