Duterte does not believe reports on Espenido drug links

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The Interior Department confirmed that the controversial policeman was on the President's narco list but the Palace says the officer still enjoys Duterte's trust and confidence. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte does not believe that PLtCol Jovie Espenido is involved with illegal drugs, the Palace said, despite the Interior Department confirming that he was on the President's watchlist.

"President Rodrigo Roa Duterte believes that Police Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido is clean," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a statement on Friday.

Malacañang said the police officer who previously led the deadly operations against drug-linked politicians, is a victim of "black propaganda" aimed at tarnishing his name.

"Lt. Col. Espenido continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the President. PRRD believes that the reports of his alleged involvement in prohibited drugs are untrue," added Panelo.

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who was Espenido's superior during the lawmaker's stint at the police force, said he hopes Espenido can "acquit himself" and disprove allegations against him.

"Otherwise, he is just one of the many others I personally knew to have succumbed to the pressure," said Lacson.

The senator also recalled Espenido as a person who "consistently performed his duty with integrity and dedication."

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed that Espenido was one of the 357 policemen on Duterte's narco list but maintains that he will still undergo due process. Año said the officer's previous accomplishments could be "a big positive factor" during the validation and adjudication process.

Espenido's career in the force was embroiled in controversy when the mayors of both towns that he was assigned to were killed under his watch. In 2016, Espenido was police chief of Albuera, Leyte when its mayor, Rolando Espinosa, Sr., was killed. The following year, Espenido was reassigned to Ozamiz in Misamis Occidental when city mayor Reynado Parojinog was also slain. Both mayors were on the President's narco list.

Duterte then awarded Espenido for his efforts in the anti-drug campaign, even promoting him from mayor to lieutenant colonel last year.

Philippine National Police Chief PGen Archie Gamboa kept mum on the issue but previously said he wanted to protect the identity of the policemen indicated in the watchlist. He added that the PNP targets to finish the adjudication and validation process in a month.