Drug war poster boy Jovie Espenido is on Duterte drug list

Rambo Talabong

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Drug war poster boy Jovie Espenido is on Duterte drug list
One of President Rodrigo Duterte's most lauded cops is on his own drug list

MANILA, Philippines – Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido, one of the poster boys of President Rodrigo Duterte’s unrelenting but lagging anti-illegal drugs campaign, is on the President’s notorious drug list.

This was confirmed to Rappler by two police generals privy to the list on Wednesday, February 12, speaking on condition of anonymity for their security.

Espenido’s inclusion in the list is a blow to the Duterte government’s anti-drug campaign, as he is among few cops whom President Duterte praised in his so-called “drug war” after he led the operation that led to the killing of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog.

Rappler has sought the comment of Espenido through text message on Wednesday, but he has yet to reply as of posting.

Espenido’s inclusion: On Friday, PNP chief General Archie Gamboa convened a meeting with cops included in the President’s drug list, all sacked from their posts and placed under Gamboa’s office because of their inclusion. 

One of the cops present in the Camp Crame National Headquarters meeting was Espenido, surprising officials in the conference. 

Who’s Espenido again? Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido catapulted himself to national fame after he masterminded the anti-drug operation that led to the death of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others, including his wife Susan, brother Octavio Jr, and sister Mona. He was also the chief of the Albuera town police when its mayor, Rolando Espinosa, was killed by cops during the service of a warrant in his detention cell. (READ: Jovie Espenido sans the uniform)

After the operations, Espenido was hailed by Duterte, who even verbally gave him the order that he was “free to kill everybody” after promoting him to lead the Bacolod City police’s operations arm. But on Wednesday, February 5, Espenido was relieved from his post, puzzling his colleagues. It turned out that it was because he was on Duterte’s own drug list.

What happened in the meeting? Without disclosing names of cops present in the meeting, Gamboa told reporters on Monday, February 10, that he urged the cops who knew they were guilty, to avail of early retirement to cut themselves off from the police organization.

Gamboa then ordered officials not to speak to reporters about the meeting and about the cops included in the drug list, emphasizing that the cops are still innocent until proven guilty.

What Espenido’s inclusion means: Espenido on the drug list does not automatically mean that he is involved in drugs. It has been repeatedly reported that the administration has holes in its record-keeping, and that its process has been opaque to the public.

No less than Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Director General Aaron Aquino once said that the drug list was “not airtight” and that they don’t have enough proof to defend their allegations before the courts. Despite this, the Duterte government has released names on the list, most notably before village and senatorial elections.

Special treatment? One of the generals Rappler spoke to expressed concern about Espenido’s inclusion, worrying that the police command allowed Espenido’s promotion from Ozamiz to Bacolod despite knowing he was on the drug list.

The 357 cops on Duterte’s drug list will be undergoing “adjudication” – their process of double-checking whether the cops deserved to be listed in the first place. The final decision whether a cop will be kept or removed from the list will fall on the table of  Duterte. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.