war on drugs

Duterte’s tainted list, Calida’s gag order

Chay F. Hofileña

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Duterte’s tainted list, Calida’s gag order

LeAnne Jazul

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The dreaded and infamous Duterte drug list has claimed a recent but unlikely victim in the person of Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido, a loyal follower of the President who has delivered in terms of target kills in relation to his war on drugs.

As of late 2019, our tally shows the following: 

  • Conservatively, there have been at least 5,563 killed in anti-drug operations as of December 31, 2019. This is based on data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

  • The Philippine National Police, however, had reported that, as of end-May 2019, about 6,600 had already been killed. 

  • Human rights groups, as of December 2018, already claimed over 27,000 had been killed.

Read more: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs’

There were two early indicators that the list was flawed: the convoluted categories that the PNP introduced and which were later withdrawn. Remember? Deaths under investigation AND homicide cases under investigation that were either drug-related, non-drug-related, or with still undetermined motives. Sure enough, those caused some confusion, to say the least.

This also made it impossible for the media to continue the previous tally of deaths sent to them by the police themselves. Add to this the number of dead or no-longer-in-office judges or local officials who were still on the list. As early as 2016, we were saying that the list was incredible and full of loopholes and should, in no way, be definitive insofar as drug suspects were concerned. It was proof of lousy intelligence.

No one listened. Malacañang didn’t give a hoot – as usual.

TARGETED. Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido is named in the Duterte drug list. Rappler photo

The Espenido case 

Ironically, that same list has victimized one of its enforcers. A recipient of two medals from no less than President Duterte for his contributions to the brutal campaign against drugs, Jovie Espenido minced no words when he declared that his inclusion in the list was a “failure of intelligence-gathering.” Didn’t we say that before? It’s not bullet-proof.

In an interview with our reporter Rambo Talabong, Espenido did not hide his disappointment in his chief, General Archie Gamboa. In so many words, he told Rambo that Gamboa did not exercise his prerogative and green-lighted his relief without even checking.  

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo was quick to say Espenido “continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the President.” After all, Espenido was on top of police operations that killed Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and members of his family in July 2017 – they had been linked to illegal drugs, just like Rolando Espinosa Sr, mayor of Albuera, Leyte who was killed in his cell.

But Panelo was also quick to back-pedal, giving the President some maneuvering room, when he declared on Monday, February 17, that Duterte may still change his mind, depending on intelligence he gets from his own sources and information from law enforcers themselves.

But the nagging question is, is that information reliable? Judge for yourself, given the process involved, which Rambo explains in this story: Big funds, little transparency: How Duterte’s drug list works.

Targeting ABS-CBN

By Tuesday afternoon, February 18, ABS-CBN was again in the news, thanks to the indefatigable Solicitor General Jose Calida who sought a gag order against the network. Remember, he wants to invalidate ABS-CBN’s franchise via a quo warranto route. In case you missed my newsletter last week, I tackled this: Quo, what again?

On what grounds does he want that gag order? Sub judice. He is of the belief that the Court should not be swayed or influenced by ABS-CBN reports. But, really, if only factual reporting is involved, isn’t a gag order tantamount to muzzling the media? Freedom of expression and freedom of the press, two rights that enjoy constitutional guarantees, will be violated by the very court that’s supposed to protect these rights. Wouldn’t that be ironic? 

ABS-CBN was asked to comment in 5 days. By February 27 or even earlier, the Senate – under public services committee chair Grace Poe – is set to hold hearings on the franchise issue. Imagine that being broadcast all over the country and the public sympathy it could further generate? We heard that on this issue the mass audience does not quite commiserate with the administration.

Meanwhile, here are the important Newsbreak stories you shouldn’t miss.

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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.