‘You are free to kill everybody’
Here we go again. Yes, that is the latest chilling order given by President Duterte to his favorite drug war lieutenant — Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido. The President was sending Espenido off to Bacolod City, a place that, according to him, is “badly hit (by illegal drugs) now.”
“Go there, you are free to kill everybody,” said the President.
And in case Espenido or anyone failed to get his intent, he reiterated: “Start killing there. Dalawa na lang tayo pa-preso (Let’s go to prison together).”
Such damning words are sure to reverberate through the international community, which has taken notice of the administration’s antidrug campaign that has claimed the lives of anywhere from 6,000 (according to police records) to 20,000 (according to independent observers and watchdogs) mostly poor people.
If anyone at the International Criminal Court is tracking, this would be the nth time that kill orders have come from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Mr. Duterte’s spokespersons are expected to downplay and dismiss the President’s remarks as usual as hyperbole, bluster, exaggeration, an expression of frustration, even a joke.
No official obfuscation, however, can obliterate the power of those words: They are clear, direct and dead-serious.
As the Commander in Chief, Mr. Duterte was giving unmistakable marching orders to a police official, using very specific language — to “kill” in the service of antidrug operations.
In that speech before businessmen last week, Mr. Duterte was not shy or vague in any way about the gravity of his directive, or its possible ramifications. He wanted to go at Bacolod’s alleged drug problem hammer and tongs, and for this he was sending the most fearsome police officer in his arsenal — “’yung kinakatakutan nila na police.”
Of course, Espenido, now deputy police director for operations of the Bacolod City Police Office, was not going into his latest assignment without a carrot: It came with the advance reward of a promotion from major to lieutenant colonel last week.
The city’s police chief, Col. Henry Biñas, said he plans to assign Espenido to the Bacolod City Drug Enforcement Unit (could he do otherwise?). In addition, Espenido will chair the police oversight committee on anti-illegal drugs in Bacolod.
“He will be overseeing the overall management” and, “with his background and expertise,” could provide the “strategy” in such operations, said Brig. Gen. Rene Pamuspusan, Western Visayas police director.
That strategy is clear from Espenido’s record. It was when he was police chief of Albuera, Leyte, in 2016, that Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., publicly tagged by the President as among a number of officials allegedly involved in illegal drugs, was killed inside his cell by policemen who, in a midnight operation, said they were serving a search warrant.
In 2017, Espenido was transferred to Ozamiz City. His stint there resulted in the killing of another mayor, Reynaldo Parojinog, and 14 others linked to the illegal drug trade.
This bloody record earned for Espenido an Order of Lapu-Lapu Magalong Medal, conferred on him by the President on National Heroes Day in 2017, along with ever-rising esteem from his patron.
In a radio interview, Espenido likened the President’s bloodcurdling Bacolod agenda for him as “like father talking to his son.” Could it have been possibly a joke — words Mr. Duterte didn’t really mean? Espenido wasn’t receiving it that way: “Ako na ’yung bahala, sa akin na ’yung responsibility.” It’s an order, and he will bloody well do it.
Mr. Duterte, mouthing off deadly orders while denouncing local and international critics for threatening to haul him to the international court for his human rights record, has said he didn’t care about the death toll in his drug war.
“I don’t care kung ilan kayo diyang namatay, just don’t fuck with me on drugs,” he said in a speech in Japan in May.
Obviously, and despite the furious pushback by Malacañang at any suggestion that the nationwide killings are somehow state-backed given the centerpiece nature of the President’s program and his cocky utterances about it, Mr. Duterte also knows that his orders to kill are a gross violation of the rule of law and due process.
It’s there in his offhand quip to Espenido: “Dalawa na lang tayo pa-preso.”
He’s well aware, but doesn’t care, that his actions risk jail time and reckoning one day. But he’s the President, and he thinks “kill everybody” is the solution to his lifelong vexation, and so his chief executioner has his latest license to kill.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.