Drilon expresses concern over Espenido reassignment to Iloilo

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised concerns over the reassignment of Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido to Iloilo, where his second cousin Jed Mabilog is a mayor.

While it is President Rodrigo Duterte's prerogative, Drilon said the reassignment is a "cause of concern" because of Espenido's track record.

"The posting of Espenido is a prerogative of the President, and the peace-loving, cultured, and law abiding Ilonggos welcome him to Iloilo City. Having said that, the assignment to Iloilo City of Espenido, nevertheless, is a cause of concern," Drilon said in a text message on Monday, August 28.

It was under Espenido when Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr was killed in a midnight operation inside his jail cell. The cop was then reassigned to Ozamiz City, and shortly after, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others were killed in another operation. Both Espinosa and Parojinog were tagged by the President as involved in the illegal drug trade.

Duterte on Monday announced the new assignment and said it was Espenido who asked for it. The President also hinted that Mabilog, who he earlier accused of protecting drug lords, could be the next target. Mabilog had denied the allegation.

"Ngayon, gusto mo sa Iloilo, kasi si Mabilog has been identified as a protector – mayor. Mabuhay kaya siya?" Duterte said. (Now you want to be assigned to Iloilo because Mabilog has been identified as a protector – mayor. Will he live?)

"Gusto ko lang tanungin kasi ako naman ang pagbibintangan. Ikaw nga ang nagbaril diyan tapos ako ang napa-publish kung saan-saan eh. Pero if you do the country a favor, I will support you. And we all… then we'll all go to jail, do not worry. Just follow the rules of engagement, the requirements of the performance of duty," Duterte said.

(I want to ask him about the issue because I'll be blamed again. You fired the gun but I'm the one who ended up getting written about everywhere. But if you do the country a favor, I will support you. And we all, then we'll all go to jail, do not worry. Just follow the rules of engagement, the requirements of the performance of duty.)

Mabilog said on Monday that he welcomes Espenido's reassignment to Iloilo, adding that they could learn from the cop's "experience in fighting drugs."

Trusting Espenido

But administration Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, vouched for Espenido, saying he "trusts" that the latter would know what to do.

Despite Duterte's remarks involving Mabilog, Lacson said it is Espenido who should be accountable for upholding the rule of law in Iloilo.

"I trust that Espenido knows what to do. While there's a load of doublespeak in the President's marching order, ultimately, it is on Espenido's account and responsibility to uphold the rule of law and follow the rules of engagement in his new place of assignment," Lacson said in a text message.

Lacson added that he worked with the "focused" and "upright" Espenido in the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) almost two decades ago.

"I knew him as a focused, diligent, and upright police non-commissioned officer when he was working under me at the defunct PAOCTF 17 years ago. I am banking on that and more to say what I just said about the man," Lacson said.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, another Duterte ally, said there is nothing to worry about.

"Not at all. All the local officials have to do is stay clean of drugs. Nothing to worry about unless they insist and when confronted, fight back. Then that's their problem," Sotto said. – Rappler.com 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com