LT. Col. Jovie Espenido, one of the poster boys of the Duterte administration’s war against drugs, is included in President Duterte’s list of policemen involved in the narcotics trade, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed yesterday.
Año said Espenido’s inclusion in the list was the reason for his relief as deputy chief for operations of the Bacolod City police station last week.
Año said the PNP is now validating the supposed involvement of Espenido, a prominent figure in the government’s drug war.
“Yes, that’s true. And he will also undergo validation and possible investigation,” he said.
The President’s list of narco cops has 357 names, including Espenido. PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa on Wednesday said a brigadier general was the most senior policeman in the list.
Año said President Duterte is well aware of Espenido’s inclusion in the list of narco policemen.
“He (Duterte) told the chief PNP (Gamboa) during our (recent) command conference, ‘go ahead, conduct the investigation.’ The chief PNP told the President during our command conference the 357 will be relieved and undergo adjudication and investigation,” he said.
Like Gamboa, the DILG chief said the inclusion of Espenido and the other narco policemen in the list does not automatically make them guilty.
“We are going to validate information against them. We will clear those who need to be cleared. This doesn’t mean they are guilty. That is why they are still in the service, because (there) is no enough evidence for their dismissal,” Año said.
“We will also give them their rights to be heard. They are going to be given due process to defend themselves,” he added.
On Monday, Gamboa announced the President has given the PNP the liberty to “investigate, adjudicate and validate” the information against the narco cops, who he met in Camp Crame on Friday last week.
Gamboa has given the 357 errant cops the option to go on early retirement if they feel they are guilty. He said 15 of them, including the brigadier general, have so far signified intention to bow out of the service ahead of their retirement age of 56.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman said retirement will not prevent government from going after the police officers tagged in the illegal drugs trade in the country as they may still face criminal charges if evidence warrants.
Panelo said availing of the early retirement offer will not prevent government from filing criminal charges against the errant cops since such move could be foreseen as an admission of guilt or involvement in the criminal act.
“Giving them retirement option doesn’t mean that they will not be prosecuted if there’s evidence they’ve been involved,” he said, adding that it will be up to the courts to decide if they will be held liable.
Espenido first gained prominence in November 2016 when policemen killed Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., a suspected drug trafficker, while detained on drug charges.
Police claimed Espinosa fought it out with policemen who were serving an arrest warrant for illegal possession of firearms. Espenido was the town’s police chief at the time.
Espenido was later named the chief of police of Ozamis City and headed the anti-narcotics raid that led to the death of Ozamiz City mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 15 others in July 2017.
In October last year, President Duterte announced he was assigning Espenido to the Bacolod City police, giving him the free hand to “go and start killing them (drug personalities)” in the city.
When reached yesterday, Espenido said he is not commenting on his inclusion in the list of narco policemen. His reply was similar to what he said on Wednesday when reports about his inclusion came out.
The adjudication process against the narco policemen was due to commence yesterday. Gamboa said the process may be completed in one to two months, after which a formal investigation will follow. – With Jocelyn Montemayor