MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A police officer once tasked to chase after mayors with alleged links to illegal drugs will soon be working in his magic in an area President Rodrigo Duterte once called the "most shabulized" province in the country.
Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido will be assigned to Iloilo, Duterte said in a speech on Monday, August 28, to celebrate National Heroes Day. During the same event, Duterte awarded Espenido the Magalong Medal, Order of Lapu-Lapu.
It's an award for both public and private individuals who have "rendered extraordinary service or have made exceptional contributions to the success of an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President," according to an executive order signed by Duterte.
"He is a dedicated man," said Duterte of Espenido in a chance interview with reporters after the event.
On August 2, 2017, Mabilog himself said the shabu problem in Iloilo was not as bad compared to a year ago.
'Soldier' in war on drugs
Espenido is among the more prominent characters in Duterte's war against drugs. He was assigned to mayors with alleged drug links, both of which eventually died as a result of police operations.
The Parojinogs were part of Duterte's infamous list of mayors, judges, and cops with supposed links to illegal drugs.
Prior to Ozamiz, Espenido was police chief in Albuera, Leyte, which was once headed by another late mayor, Rolando Espinosa Sr, with supposed links to illegal drugs.
The President made a reference to both assignments in his speech.
"I will ask you again. You ask for the assignment sa Leyte, namatay ang mayor doon (the mayor in Leyte died). You ask for another assignment sa Ozamiz, namatay ang mayor doon, si Parojinog (the mayor there also died, Parojinog). Ngayon, gusto mo sa Iloilo, kasi si Mabilog has been identified as a protector – mayor. Mabuhay kaya siya? (Now you want to be assigned to Iloilo because Mabilog has been identified as a protector – mayor. Will he live?)" Duterte said, referring to Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog.
The President added: "Gusto ko nang tanungin kasi ako naman ang pagbibintangan. Ikaw nga nagbaril diyan tapos ako ang napa-publish kung saan-saan (I want to ask him about the issue because I'll be blamed again. You fired the gun but I'm the one who ended up getting written about everywhere)."
Since the war on drugs began, police have been accused of taking shortcuts and breaking the law in the name of the campaign. Duterte reminded cops to "follow the rules of engagement." (READ: After Kian slay, Duterte tempers messaging on drug war)
"Murder or homicide or local killing or whatever is not allowed. But in the performance of your duty, tell your men that whenever their life is in danger and they are in the actual performance of a duty, your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting, not only just shouting at him to surrender," the President said.
Albuera and the CIDG
Slain mayor Espinosa, father of alleged drug lord Kerwin, was Espenido's target for months. The chief inspector led several operations against the Espinosas until the mayor "surrendered" before no less than Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa.
Espinosa was under Espenido's custody in Albuera until the former was charged and detained in the Leyte sub-provincial jail.
But it was in jail that Espinosa died, after he supposedly fought back against Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region VIII police led by Superintendent Marvin Marcos. The CIDG was trying to serve a search warrant against Espinosa in prison.
Various probes – criminal and legislative – have concluded that the operation was either a rubout or meant to cover Marcos and company's own alleged ties to illegal drugs.