MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday confirmed that he is sending Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido to Iloilo, which the chief executive once described as the “most shabulized” city in the country.
"Your next assignment is Iloilo," Duterte told Espenido in a speech during the celebration of National Heroes Day.
The President said he decided to assign Espenido to Iloilo City after the police official said he wants to go after the city’s mayor, Jed Mabilog.
"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 nga si Mabilog has been identified as a protector," Duterte said.
“Mabuhi kaya siya? (Will he remain alive?) Gusto ko nang tanungin kasi ako naman ang pagbibintangan. Ikaw ang nagbaril diyan tapos ako ang mapa-publish kung saan-saan.”
The President has said that Iloilo province is a bedrock of illegal drug trading in the Visayas region, an allegation denied by the province’s mayors, including Mabilog.
In a chance interview, the President said he agreed to assign Espenido to Iloilo City because of the latter’s dedication to his work.
“He knows his law so he should replicate his exploits in other parts of the country. He wants to be assigned in Iloilo, I will assign him there,” Duterte told reporters.
Espenido became controversial after the local chief executives in the areas where he was assigned were killed in police raids, the conduct of which were being questioned by human rights groups.
Espenido was the chief of Albuera Police when the town’s mayor, Rolando Espinosa Sr., was arrested on drug charges and eventually killed during a police operation in his detention cell at Baybay City, Leyte in November 2016.
He was then transferred in December 2016 to Ozamiz City, another area known for its links to the drug trade and crime gangs.
Several months later, the city’s mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. and 15 others died in simultaneous drug raids.
Espenido has denied any irregularity in the conduct of the drug raids. He also maintained that the Parojinogs had links to the illegal drug trade.
In an interview with ANC's Headstart earlier this month, Espenido told local politicians to simply step down from their posts to "extend" their lives.
He had also said he would want to be next assigned to Iloilo, where four mayors were among the dozens of politicians Duterte alleged were involved in the drug trade.
"Gusto ko kasi yung extreme na mayor, yung para bang pinaka-kritikal na mayor para masubukan ko kung ang Panginoon ko, makaya ba doon," he said.
In an interview with reporters, Espenido said he considers Duterte’s decision to send him to Iloilo City as “God’s will.”
He also gave an indirect answer when asked whether it was him who asked the President to be assigned to Iloilo City.
“Ang importante [ito ay] para sa bayan, para sa lahat. God’s will iyan,” he said, adding that he hopes Mabilog and other local government officials would cooperate in the police’s campaign against illegal drugs.