Jovie Espenido is on Duterte's narco list, DILG confirms

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In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte awarded Jovie Espenido for his contributions to the government's anti-drug campaign (FILE PHOTO).

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — PLtCol Jovie Espenido, the police officer who previously led deadly operations against drug-linked politicians, is now being accused of involvement in illegal drugs.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Friday confirmed that Espenido is among the 357 policemen on President Rodrigo Duterte's drug watchlist, also known as narco list.

"He will undergo validation and adjudication just like the rest," Año said in a statement.

The head of the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has supervision over the Philippine National Police, stressed that Espenido remains innocent until proven guilty.

"His accomplishments in the past could be a big positive factor to his side during adjudication/validation," he added.

The controversial Espenido was the chief of police of Albuera, Leyte when the town's mayor, Rolando Espinosa, Sr. was killed in 2016. He was also police chief of Ozamiz in Misamis Occidental when the city's mayor, Reynaldo Parojinog, was killed in 2017. Both mayors were on Duterte's narco list.

In 2017, Duterte awarded Espenido for his contributions to the government's anti-drug campaign.

In October last year, Duterte sent Espenido to Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental which he said was "badly hit" by illegal drugs. The President in a speech said he told Espenido to "go there and you are free to kill everybody." Espenido also got a one-rank promotion from Major to Lieutenant Colonel.

READ: 'Free to kill'? Controversial cop vows to uphold human rights

Malacañang earlier refused to confirm Espenido's inclusion in the watchlist. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said they have to validate the report of Rappler, saying anything that comes from the online news site was questionable.

Espenido and PNP Chief Gen. Archie Gamboa have not commented on the issue.

Gamboa previously said he would like to protect the identity of all the 357 policemen on the narco list, including the highest-ranking officer there – a Brigadier General or one-star rank official.

He said the PNP targets to finish the adjudication and validation process in a month and those who will be found innocent of any drug links will be removed from the watchlist. On the other hand, administrative and criminal charges will be filed against those with proven illegal drug transactions.