Narcopolitician or ‘best’ mayor? Who is Iloilo City’s Jed Mabilog?

Jodesz Gavilan

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Narcopolitician or ‘best’ mayor? Who is Iloilo City’s Jed Mabilog?
Aside from his drug links, Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog has been accused of having unexplained wealth by former allies

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido has been tasked to look after Iloilo City – the capital of the “most shabulized” province in the Philippines, at least according to President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Espenido’s new role, announced on Monday, August 28, comes on the heels of the bloody raid which led to the death of alleged narcopolitician and Ozamiz City mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr and 14 others under his watch. (TIMELINE: Parojinog, from Duterte’s narco list to a bloody raid) 

Espenido was also the chief of police in Albuera town, Leyte whose former mayor with alleged drug links, Rolando Espinosa Sr, was killed in November 2016.

The new assignment in Iloilo carries with it new expectations of Espenido who has earned a reputation of being a police officer able to chase after narcopoliticians. 

Iloilo has been alleged to be a den of illegal drugs and its city mayor, Jed Patrick Mabilog, has been included in a list of more than 150 government officials allegedly involved in the drug trade. (READ: The Duterte list: Judges, mayors, police officials linked to drugs) 

‘Best’ mayor?

Mabilog was surprised by the accusation that he was a drug protector. 

After Duterte named him, Mabilog held a press conference and insisted that he implemented anti-illegal drug programs in his city to support the government’s campaign. (READ: ‘Most ‘shabulized’ province?: Ilonggos shocked over Duterte’s claim) Parojinog said the same thing before he was killed.

“The record will speak for itself – that my administration was always in full support of the needs of the PNP and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the agencies primarily responsible for the suppression and elimination of illegal drugs in the city, and I have never been remiss in this duty and obligation,’’ he said. 

Mabilog, a second cousin of Senator Franklin Drilon, has been in government a little over a decade only. Starting his political stint as city councilor in 2004, he was elected vice mayor in 2007.

After one term, Mabilog ran and won as mayor against former justice secretary Raul Gonzales in 2010. He has since led Iloilo City after being reelected in 2013 and 2016.  

Mabilog is credited for the Iloilo City Investment and Incentives Code which is said to have boosted the local economy in the city, according to the local government’s website.  

In 2014, international think tank City Mayors Foundation named him one of its 26 finalists for the “most outstanding city mayor in the world” award. The finalists were drawn from 121 mayors – besting even then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Iloilo City mayor, finalist at 2014 World Mayor awards) 

Prior to being a government official, Mabilog served as marketing director of a Customs brokerage firm and chair of Pan Pacific Food Services. He also holds a Masters in Public Management from the Ateneo de Manila University and a degree in Biological Sciences from West Visayas State University.

Unexplained wealth 

The accomplishments and several awards received by Mabilog, however, could not stem the allegations of corruption. Complaints of corruption against the city mayor have piled up since 2015. 

In 2016, the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas recommended the filing of charges against him for unexplained wealth, according to an Inquirer report. 

From P16.51 million in 2006, a lifestyle check revealed that Mabilog’s net worth shot up to more than double at P44.45 million when he was vice mayor in 2007.  

The complaint, filed by former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, also noted Mabilog’s  multi-million mansion which stands along the Iloilo River. 

In 2015, Mabilog again faced a graft complaint for entering into a contract with 3L Towing Services for the city’s towing services. Then councilor Plaridel Nava alleged that he co-owned the company. 

The allegations, however, were all categorically denied by Mabilog. 

Welcoming Espenido

When he was first tagged a narcopolitician by Duterte, Mabilog urged authorities to investigate to clear his name out of fear for his and his family’s security. 

He also expressed the same fear in the aftermath of the death of the Parojinogs who were also in Duterte’s drug list, but he remained confident that his “efforts” to combat illegal drugs are “known to national leaders and that these have also reached the President.”

This confidence was evident when Mabilog welcomed the announcement of the possibility of being put under the eyes of Espenido – the police chief formerly under two local chief executives who were eventually killed.

Calling Espenido as “the President’s point-man in the battle against illegal drugs,” the Iloilo City Mayor said that he looks forward to learning and “discovering the ‘new players’ and where they hide.”

“In the city of Iloilo, I will share with him our own strategies and compare notes on how to win this war at the barangay level,” Mabilog said in Hiligaynon. 

But Duterte’s joke, delivered after he announced Espenido’s reassignment, speaks a lot about what may come: “Mabuhi kaya siya? (Will he live?)” –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.