Duterte to assign controversial police chief to Iloilo

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Story updated to include statement of Sen. Ping Lacson.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he is assigning a controversial police chief to another city whose mayor is on his "narcolist."

Duterte awarded the Order of Lapu-Lapu to Ozamiz police Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido during the National Heroes Day celebration at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

"You asked for the assignment sa Leyte, namatay ang mayor doon. You asked for another assignment sa Ozamiz, namatay ang mayor doon, si Parojinog. Ngayon, gusto mo sa Iloilo, kasi si Mabilog has been identified as a protector. Mabuhay kaya siya?" Duterte said, referring to Iloilo City mayor Jed Mabilog.

[Translation: You asked for the assignment in Leyte, the mayor there died. You asked for another assignment in Ozamiz, the mayor there, Parojinog, also died. Now you want to go to Iloilo, because Mabilog has been identified as a drug protector. Will he live?]

Duterte has called Iloilo the "most shabulized" province in the country, with Mabilog also named in the "narco-list."

Read: Alleged narco-politicians deny involvement in illegal drug trade

Mabilog has denied the allegations, saying that he is willing to subject himself to any investigation.

Mabilog said Monday that he welcomes Espenido's reassignment to Iloilo.

"I am hoping Chief Inspector Espenido can help us fully address our problem with illegal drugs," he said in a statement. "I am sure we can learn from his experience in fighting illegal drugs, especially in searching new players and their whereabouts."

Espenido said the assignment was "God's will," adding that the mayor should "cooperate" with the police.

"Cooperate lang kung ano talaga ang dapat mai-cooperate niya, mawala lang, masabi natin, pangalan niya sa narco-politicians, then, 'yun ang the best," he told reporters after the heroes' day ceremony. "Pro-life tayo talaga. Tingnan niyo ang record ko."

[Translation: He should cooperate what he is willing to cooperate so that his name would be removed from the list of narco-politicians, which is for the best. We are pro-life. Look at my record.]

Espenido also said if Mabilog wishes to surrender, he may do so.

"Pabayaan natin siya," he said. "Kung hindi din, wala tayong magawa. Ang sa atin lang, kung ano ang problema ng Iloilo, nasa bayan niya."

[Translation: Let's leave him to decide. If he doesn't want to, we can't do anything. For us, the problem in Iloilo is in their city.]

Senator Franklin Drilon, a critic of the Duterte administration who hails from Iloilo, said on Monday that Espenido's transfer is "a cause of concern because of his track record."

"The posting of Espenido is a prerogative of the President and the peace-loving, cultured and law-abiding Ilonggos welcome him to Iloilo City," he said. "I hope he does follow the rules of engagement."

Meanwhile, Senator Ping Lacson said he knew Espenido as a "focused, diligent and upright non-commissioned officer" when he worked in the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force that former police chief Lacson headed in 2000.

"I trust that Espenido knows what to do," he said. "While there's a load of doublespeak in the President's marching order, ultimately, it is on Espenido's account and responsibility to uphold the rule of law and follow the rules of engagement in his new place of assignment."

Two mayors dead

Espenido's possible reassignment to Iloilo City comes after two mayors linked to the illegal drug trade were killed in separate police operations where he was chief of police.

Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others were killed in a July 30 shootout led by Espenido who was serving search warrants at the Parojinog's properties in Barangays Baybay San Roque and Baybay Santa Cruz.

Read: Ozamiz City Mayor, 14 others killed in police raids

Espenido was also the police chief of Albuera, Leyte when its mayor, Rolando Espinosa Sr., was killed in a November 2016 shootout as police were attempting to serve a search warrant in the city's jail.

Read: Albuera Mayor Espinosa, 1 other inmate killed in jail cell shootout – CIDG

Duterte added that he will support Espenido and that he will be willing to go to jail for him.

"He is a dedicated man," the President told reporters after his speech. "He knows his law. So, he should replicate his exploits in other parts of the country. If he wants to be assigned in Iloilo, I will assign him there," he added.

On April 2017, Duterte created the Order of Lapu-Lapu through Executive Order No. 17. It is given to individuals who for their "invaluable or extraordinary service in relation to a campaign or advocacy of the President."

The award conferred by Duterte on the police chief on Monday is the third that Espenido has been given this month, a confirmation of the President's support for his accomplishments in the war on drugs.

Read: PNP Chief: Ozamiz police head Espenido to receive special award

'Unlawful killing' not allowed

However, Duterte said in his speech that unlawful killing of drug suspects will not be tolerated. But he reiterated police had a right to defend themselves if suspects were resisting arrest.

"Murder and homicide or whatever. Unlawful killing is not allowed," he said.

"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," he said.

The President's remarks come amid widespread outrage over the killing of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos, an alleged drug runner, in a drug raid on August 16 in Caloocan City.

Read: 17-year-old student gunned down by cops in anti-drug operations

Duterte has said that policemen cops are found liable in Delos Santos' death will go to jail.

Read: Duterte vows to jail cops if found guilty in minor's slay

Delos Santos was laid to rest on Aug. 26.

Read: Hundreds of supporters call for justice as Kian is laid to rest