Duterte Final Year

LIST: Whatever happened to these drug war issues under Duterte?

Jairo Bolledo

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LIST: Whatever happened to these drug war issues under Duterte?

BLOODY WAR. Aside from thousands of deaths, Duterte's drug war also stirs other controversies.


While these controversies invited criticism, victims still wait for justice to be served

Aside from blood and death, President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war also stirred controversy – from the deadly execution of anti-drug operations, to hundreds of recorded abuses by police officials and other authorities.

Even Duterte’s allies became victims of this atrocious campaign. And five years on, some of these controversies and injustices remain unsettled.

Below is a list of some of them.

Jee Ick Joo case

Even foreigners became victims of Duterte’s drug war. Only months into the deadly war on drugs, Korean Jee Ick Joo made headlines after he was reported to be killed by a cop.

On October 18, 2016, Jee was abducted from his house in Angeles City, Pampanga by a policeman. The same day, he was brought to Camp Crame, national headquarters of the police, and was allegedly strangled to death by a member of the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG).

Jee’s case later became one of the biggest drug war-related controversies during the early years of Duterte.

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After a series of investigations, a case was filed before an Angeles City court that led to the issuance of arrest warrants against policemen. At least three police officers were tagged in the killing: Police Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Dumlao III, the alleged mastermind, former cop Ricky Sta. Isabel, and a certain Jerry Omlang.

In 2019, a Pampanga court allowed Dumlao to post bail, while the petitions of the two other suspects were denied. Although the government has already identified and filed complaints against the suspects, they have yet to be convicted.

Five years after Jee’s tragic death, justice has yet to be served.

Jovie Espenido: from ‘poster boy’ to drug suspect

Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido once led the government’s anti-drug campaign in the Visayas, but his fortunes took a 180-degree turn.

Once the “poster boy” of the campaign, Espenido is now detained over his involvement in the illegal drug trade. 

The Department of Justice indicted Espenido in 2018 for six counts of homicide over the deaths of six people during an anti-drug operation in 2017. The former police chief admitted that he and his policemen hunted down the victims but killed them out of “self-defense.”

In 2020, police generals confirmed that Espenido was part of Duterte’s drug war list

On March 30, 2021, Espenido surrendered to the police after receiving a copy of his arrest warrant issued by Judge Mary Faith Potoy-Montederamos of the Ozamiz City Regional Trial Court Branch 35.

The case of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr

Rolando Espinosa Sr., then-mayor of Albuera, Leyte, was killed inside his cell in November 2016. Espinosa was allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade, according to investigations.

According to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), their officers were serving a search warrant inside Espinosa’s cell in a jail in Baybay City when the mayor exchanged fire with policemen. Another inmate died in the incident.

The National Bureau of Investigation conducted an independent probe into the killing of the mayor. It later recommended filing multiple murder and perjury complaints against the policemen involved in the operation where Espinosa was killed.

Then-police superintendent Marvin Marcos, a known Duterte ally, was one of the police officers facing complaints.

One year later, the cases against policemen were downgraded from murder to homicide and they were released on bail. In 2018, Marcos even attended a party in Camp Crame during the anniversary celebration of the CIDG.

The case has no substantial updates or developments as of July 2021.

Fight of a drug war survivor

On August 21, 2016, police officers from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) Station 6 conducted an anti-drug operation in Group 9, Area B, Payatas in Quezon City. The cops allegedly shot four men “execution style,” except for a lone survivor, who was able to escape. 

Efren Morillo is the lone survivor of the gruesome incident. He later filed murder complaints against the policemen involved. 

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He also filed frustrated murder, robbery, and planting of drugs and firearms complaints before the Ombudsman against Senior Inspector Emil Garcia, Police Officer 3 Allan Formilleza, Police Officer 1 (PO1) James Aggarao, and PO1 Melchor Navisaga, who were formerly cops of the QCPD Station 6.

Morillo’s case is the first known case filed against policemen conducting anti-drug operations.  

However, five years on, Morillo’s case is still pending. To make matters worse, Morillo himself is facing a direct assault complaint for allegedly fighting back against a cop during the incident.

P6.4-billion shabu haul

The illegal importation of a P6.4-billion shabu shipment rocked the Duterte administration back in 2017.

How it got past the supposed tight screening of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) remains a question, despite the marathon hearings conducted by the House and the Senate.

Nicanor Faeldon, who headed the BOC at the time, was ultimately cleared by the Department of Justice over the controversy. Even after the Senate blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of charges against him, the DOJ insisted it cannot take judicial notice of revelations made in congressional inquiries.

Customs fixer Mark Taguba, identified as the alleged middleman in the shabu shipment case, is facing drug importation charges.

The Office of the Prosecutor General said trial is still ongoing for Taguba’s case, with the prosecution presenting witnesses.

Magnetic lifters case

Philippine authorities also intercepted a multi-billion shabu shipment in 2018, hidden inside magnetic lifters.

A Senate investigation followed, where resigned Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban accused former police colonel Eduardo Acierto of helping facilitate the entry of the illegal drugs.

A court in Manila slapped arrest warrants against Acierto and seven others in April 2019 over the controversy, but by that time, Acierto was already in hiding. Malacañang has offered a P10-million reward to speed up Acierto’s arrest, but he has yet to be captured by authorities.

Before the arrest order against him, the veteran anti-drug operative alleged that Michael Yang, Duterte’s former economic adviser, had links to the drug trade, a claim that Malacañang denied.

Peter Lim

When Duterte assumed office in 2016, he immediately named Peter Lim, a Cebu-based businessman, as one of the top drug lords he immediately wanted arrested.

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But five years later, Lim remains at large. He went into hiding sometime in 2018, after a court in Makati ordered his arrest for charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

The interior department had said in June that Lim could have already left the Philippines, but the DOJ and the Bureau of Immigration later said there is no record of the fugitive leaving the country. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.