VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday warned the administration against a possible cover-up after 357 policemen, including Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido, one of the poster boys of the Duterte administration’s war against drugs, were included in the President’s list of cops allegedly involved in the illegal narcotics trade.
“Napakahalaga sa kampanyang ito na dapat napagtitiwalaan iyong institusyon. Kung iyong institusyon mismo iyong nagko-cover up, iyong institusyon mismo iyong nagtatakip, malaki ang problema natin (Trust in the institution is very important in this campaign. If the institution is the one covering it up, then we have a big problem),” Robredo said on her radio program Biserbisyong Leni aired over RMN-DZXL.
Robredo said the administration should show the public that it is not tolerating any police involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
The Vice President slammed the apparent double standards in the war against drugs, saying that while ordinary people accused of peddling drugs are being summarily killed, police officials are quickly absolved.
“Ang nangyayari kasi ngayon, kapag ordinaryong tao ka, wala kang karapatan na ipagtanggol iyong sarili mo—pinapatay na lang nga—pero kapag pulis ka, presumed innocent ka (What’s happening now is you don’t have a right to defend yourself when you are an ordinary citonze, you are killed just like that but when you’re a police officer, you’re presumed innocent),” Robredo said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año last week confirmed Espenido’s inclusion in the narco-list, saying it was the reason for his relief as deputy chief for operations of the Bacolod City police station.
Malacañang, however, said last Saturday that the President still trusts Espenido, the former police chief of Albuera, Leyte, who first gained prominence in November 2016 when policemen under him killed Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., a suspected drug trafficker, while detained on drug charges.
Presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the President believes Espenido is clean and that there seems to be a “black propaganda” waged against him “to besmirch the reputation of the latter in the eyes of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) and the Filipino nation, and to derail his unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs.”
Robredo challenged the leadership of the PNP, led by Gen. Archie Gamboa, to protect the institution by “showing that you will not be remiss in your duty to ensure that those guilty will be punished.”
“Kapag ang stance, Ka Ely, ng kapulisan pinapakita na parang pinagtatakpan pa, dito nag-uumpisa iyong erosion ng trust ng tao. Kaya ako, hindi ako sang-ayon sa ginagawa ng leadership—hindi lang dito kay Espenido (The erosion of the people’s trust starts when the police leadership’s stance, Ka Ely, is to cover things up. That’s why I’m not in favor of what the leadership is doing not only in the case of Espenido),” she told anchor Ely Saludar.
Robredo said that even when she was co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) last year, officials had scoffed at her for her criticisms of the way the war on the drugs was being handled instead of showing the public that police abuses will not be tolerated.
Gamboa last week gave the 357 policemen the option to retire early as the one-month adjudication to determine their guilt or innocence began.
The new PNP chief, however, clarified that availing of optional retirement will not spare the policemen from criminal charges once the accusations against them are verified.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said he doubts the credibility of the information that led to the inclusion of Espenido in President Duterte’s list of policemen involved in the illegal drugs trade.
“Ako sa tingin ko, maaring pumasok ‘yung pangalan niya dito before dahil may mga nang-iintriga. (I think it’s possible his name was included in the list before because some people are maligning him),” said Año.
Año added the information against Espenido got into the radar of the intelligence community, thus his inclusion in the list.
“So kailangan din nito ng proseso ng validation para ipagtangol ni Col. Espenido ‘yung sarili niya at sa tingin ko naman kaya maipagtatangol niya ‘yung kanyang sarili. (So this has to go through a validation process so Col. Espenido can defend himself and I think he can defend himself),” said Año.
Año implied he was impressed by the dedication of Espenido in the fight against illegal drugs.
After Espinosa was killed, 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.
Año said in past operations, Espenido staked his own life and that of his family in going after big-time drug lords.
“Pinakita niya tagala overtly at in action kung papaano lumaban sa malalaking drug syndicates. So ako, I want to give the benefit of the doubt to Col. Espenido. (He really showed overtly and in action how to fight the big-time drug syndicates. So I want to give the benefit of the doubt to Col. Espenido),” said Año.
“Dun sa pinakita niya sa operation sa Ozamiz, may mga namatay dun. Ibang klase ‘yun, talagang it takes a lot of courage and commitment to do that (What he did in the operation in Ozamiz, some died there. It really takes a lot of courage and commitment to do that),” said Año.
President Duterte had issued a statement saying he does not believe Espenido is involved in the drugs trade. Año said that was a “big factor” for Espenido, noting the President is the “final authority on who should be removed from the list.”
Despite Duterte’s statement, however, Año said Espenido needs to go through the process “which will be to the advantage of Col. Espenido in the future” or if the issue would resurface in the next administration.
Asked if the other 356 policemen on the narco list will also be made public following his earlier confirmation that Espenido was on it, Año answered on the negative.
Año said he confirmed the inclusion of Espenido on the list because Espenido was controversial and many were following his case. He stressed Espenido and the others are “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Earlier, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said information that led to Espenido’s inclusion in the list of narco cops may have been spread by people who want to destroy the officer’s image in the eyes of Duterte. – With victor Reyes