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

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FILE PHOTO

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18) — Controversial police officer PLtCol Jovie Espenido on Friday promised to uphold the rule of law despite President Rodrigo Duterte's emboldening remark, allowing him to kill drug suspects.

The newly-assigned deputy city director for police operations in Bacolod City welcomed the Duterte's statement that he is "free to kill everybody" in the city. But he assured the public he will not take this as a license to kill.

"At least binigyan tayo ng karapatan ni Presidente. Iyon ang pinaka the best na high morale. Pero ganoon pa man, tayo ang nasa ground. We have our mandate sa batas to protect the lives and property of the people," he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: At least the President gave us the right. That's the best, we are in high morale. However, we [policemen] are the ones on the ground. We have our legal mandate to protect the lives and property of the people.]

Espenido, who gained notoriety for leading deadly operations against drug-linked politicians, said the names of the police officers who carry out drug stings will be on the line if they violate the rights of the suspects.

"At the end of the day, kami din naman sa ground ang managot kung ano ang hindi maganda naming gawin o violation of human rights," he said.

[Translation: The people on the ground will be held liable if we do anything to violate human rights.]

Espenido was the chief of police of Albuera, Leyte and Ozamiz City when two mayors, Rolando Espinosa, Sr. and Reynaldo Parojinog, were killed in police operations in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Espinosa and Parojinog were alleged narcopoliticians. Despite his reputation, the police official said the public does not have to worry if they follow the rules.

"Huwag silang matakot... Delikado lang kung gumawa sila ng masama," he said.

[Translation: Don't be afraid ... It's dangerous to do bad things.]

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

Espenido was transferred to Catanduanes in Bicol in October 2018, only to return to Ozamiz the following month, as residents supposedly feared the remaining members of the drug-linked Parojinog group.

Duterte on Thursday said he assigned the policeman, who got a one-rank promotion from Major to Lieutenant Colonel, to Bacolod because it is "badly hit" by illegal drugs. Espenido said he is not yet aware how widespread the drug problem is in the city as he is newly-installed. He said his new job entails validation of reports and planning operations.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Western Visayas confirmed that authorities in the region have conducted the most anti-drug operations in Bacolod City.

The Commission on Human Rights expressed concern with the President's remark, reminding the Duterte administration to be mindful of its statements.

"Such words inciting arbitrary act of violence by a State agent reinforce and tolerate impunity. This pronouncement should never be made to normalise violence in the country and to blatantly attack the right to life of individuals," CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.

The CHR also reminded authorities to always follow the rule of law in its operations.

Government data show more than 6,000 have been killed in the war on drugs. Local and international human rights groups say the President's public pronouncements have resulted in thousands more extrajudicial killings, a claim Malacañang has repeatedly denied.