By Jennifer P. Rendon
Law enforcer or lawbreaker?
The poster boy of the government’s war on illegal drugs is mired in controversy once more after reports came that he, too, was involved in the very crime he had been “groomed” to stamp out.
On Wednesday, reports came out that Police Lieutenant Colonel Jovie Espenido was included in the controversial PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) narco-list.
As news of Espenido’s assignment to Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO) came out, varied assumptions also surfaced.
The most hyped story was that Espenido could be the “answer” to the illegal drug problem in that part of Western Visayas.
But before he could assume as BCPO’s drug czar in October 2019, information came out that the “anti-drug messiah” was assigned to Region 6 out of political accommodation. He allegedly left Ozamis City Police Station following a spat with local elective officials.
Espenido went on to lead the BCPO City Drug Enforcement Unit.
By the end of 2019, BCPO emerged as the top-performing police office in Western Visayas when it comes to anti-illegal drug operations and the volume of drugs confiscated.
Records showed that BCPO seized P73,031,459.20 worth of illegal drugs from January to December 2019. The figure includes 6,083.026 grams of shabu valued at P72,996,312 and 152.8139 grams of marijuana worth P35,147.20.
But just how much was Espenido’s contribution to these accomplishments?
A reliable source said that Espenido only led two anti-illegal drug operations that happened in January 2020. The main targets of the two operations escaped.
One of the two operations led to the confiscation of more or less 10 grams of suspected shabu.
Last week, Espenido was again in the spotlight after he was relieved along with 14 other police lieutenant colonels.
Aside from Espenido, also relieved from the Police Regional Office (PRO)-6 was Lt. Col. Mannan Muarip, the chief of the Regional Headquarters Support Unit 6 (RHSU-6) based in Camp Martin Delgado, Iloilo.
PRO-6 received the relief orders from the PNP national headquarters in Camp Crame on Thursday although it took effect on Feb. 5.
Espenido and Muarip were reassigned to the Office of the Chief PNP.
But what triggered their relief?
“I, for one, am waiting for the reason of their relief,” Police Brigadier General Rene Pamuspusan, Western Visayas police chief, said.
But another source claimed that the 15 officials were called for adjudication.
“All of those who were relieved were on the PRRD list. They were taken out of their posts for adjudication purposes. It’s good for them to clear themselves if indeed they have nothing to do with illegal drugs,” the source said.
Daily Guardian tried to reach Espenido for comment but he did not answer calls to his mobile phones.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear if Espenido was given a heads-up of his relief.
It can be recalled that Pres. Duterte arrived in Bacolod City on Jan. 23, 2020, for the birthday of Olivia Villaflor Yanson, the matriarch of the Yanson clan that owns and operates Ceres buses all over the country.
The president reportedly had a private talk with Espenido.
Reports indicated that the only other person with the President and Espenido was Pamuspusan.
Even Police Colonel Henry Biñas, the BCPO chief, was not invited to join in the discussion.
As to the topics they discussed, persons privy to the meeting refused to give details.
Espenido made a name in Ozamiz City where he allegedly led the “neutralization” of the Parojinog drug group.
But some quarters said a different unit that led the Parojinog raid and Espenido merely supported and later on filed cases against the suspects.