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Iloilo narco politicians, cops, now on the iron sights of the PNP?

All of a sudden, barangay captains in Iloilo City who have been linked to illegal drugs are fearing for their lives. That’s because one of them, Bakhaw punong barangay Remia Prevendido-Gregori, was shot dead in cold blood at a beach resort she owns in San Joaquin, Iloilo last June 24.

The following morning, police raided several homes in barangay Tanza Esperanza, including that of outgoing barangay captain Noel “Nene” Odicta. The barangay captain is the younger brother of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta, also known as “Dragon”, who was killed along with his wife, Meriam, in August 2016. Kapitan Nene was arrested after the police reportedly recovered a hand grenade and a cal. 45 pistol in the premises of his house. But his brother-in-law, Andrew Altas, was shot dead by the police after he allegedly fired at the lead elements of the SWAT who barged into his home.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, June 26, a policeman driving home from work was ambushed by two gunmen riding a motorcycle in Barangay Dulonan, Arevalo District. Luckily, PO1 Dorben Acap was not fatally hit in the first burst of gunfire and managed to draw his 9mm pistol and return fire. As witnesses described it, it was almost like watching a movie, except that the bullets that flew thick that afternoon were real. Firing under the cover of his car, Acap managed to hit one of the gunmen, who fell to the ground. This forced his companion to help him get back on his feet and board the motorcycle to flee.

Shortly after the incident, a wounded policeman was taken aboard a tricycle to the Western Visayas Medical Center in Mandurriao. PO3 Melvin Mocoro was hit in the chest and foot, and although police investigators won’t admit it yet, is believed to have been wounded in the exchange of fire with Acap.

But this incident was immediately linked to the murder of Barangay Captain Remia Gregori and the raid on the compound of the Odictas after it was revealed that Acap is considered an HVT — high-value target — in the illegal drugs war. That his perceived assailant (there’s no proof yet that it was Mocoro who had shot Acap) was a police officer triggered inconsistent statements from the police. Radio commentators suspect it’s an attempt to cover up the involvement of a police officer in an apparent drug rub-out.

Even as the police tried to downplay any connection between the three incidents, what is now seen as a pattern of extermination of narco-politicians has caused worry among family and friends of another Barangay Captain, Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, of Monica-Blumentritt. Dabing is the wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, alleged right hand man of the slain “Dragon”, who is now serving an 8-year prison sentence for shooting and wounding a neighbor in his barangay.

On Wednesday, Dabing’s supporters started to hold prayer vigils around her home in an effort to prevent a similar attack as what befell Kapitan Gregori. Reporters from Aksyon Radyo Iloilo who went to her house said she wasn’t around when they knocked at her door. It’s highly possible she’s now in hiding for fear of her safety.

What’s more intriguing is that this wave of violence against known illegal drugs targets came after President Rodrigo Duterte visited Iloilo City for the first time since he assumed the highest post of the Republic two years ago. Did President Duterte give specific instructions to eradicate the remnants of the drug syndicates that led him to brand Iloilo City as the “bedrock of illegal drugs”? Or did his expression of displeasure about narco-politicians still being re-elected during the recent barangay elections force the PNP to use physical force, rather than the rule of law, to step up the campaign against drugs?

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What? Only one Iloilo City barangay captain in PDEA/DILG narcolist?

The disclosure made by the DILG and PDEA of the 207 barangay officials involved in illegal drugs left many Ilonggos shaking their heads in disbelief. That’s because the three most prominent barangay captains linked to the illegal drugs trade are not on the list. Only one — Barangay Captain Gemma Calzado of Kasing-kasing, Molo — was included in the list. All in all, the DILG and PDEA listed only 90 barangay captains from all over the country as being involved in illegal drugs, either as protectors or in the illicit trade itself.

What happened to Remia Prevendido-Gregori of Bakhaw, Dabing Espinosa of Monica-Blumentritt and Noemi Hablo of Desamparados? To this date, Barangay Bakhaw continues to be the hotbed of the illegal drugs trade in Iloilo City. Gregori is the sister of the slain drug group leader Richard Prevendido. Her son, Bonifacio, is in jail for being a drug dealer.

Dabing Espinosa is the wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, reputed to be the right-hand man of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta who was gunned down with his wife, Miriam, at the Caticlan port in Malay, Aklan on August 29, 2016. His house was raided by the police in October 2016; drugs and firearms were found in his house. Surprisingly, no charges were filed against Dabing despite the fact that the house is conjugal, and she was the incumbent barangay captain. Jing Jing surrendered to the court the next month to start serving an 8-year prison sentence for a crime he had committed several years ago.

Noemi Hablo had even admitted having undergone drug rehabilitation. Her late husband, Rusty, was a known illegal drugs dealer in Iloilo City.

Has the narcolist been sanitized? The DILG and PDEA could lose their credibility with this white-washed narcolist. It will put the drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte under a cloud of doubt. It raises the possibility that the President is being sabotaged by his own people.

Iloilo’s tres Marias

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to disclose to the public the names of 211 barangay captains who are allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade. I’m wondering if the three barangay captains in Iloilo City — all women — whose names have been linked to illegal drugs are included in the list. They are Keith “Dabing” Espinosa of Barangay Monica-Blumentritt, Remia Prevendido-Gregori of Barangay Bakhaw, and Noemi Hablo of Barangay Desamparados.

Espinosa is the wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, who is now serving a prison sentence for the shooting and wounding of an unarmed individual in his barangay more than a decade ago. Jing Jing was reputed to be a right hand man of the slain drug group leader Melvin “Boyet” Odicta, also known in Iloilo as “Dragon”.

Gregori is the sister of another drug group leader, Richard Prevendido, who was also killed in a police raid on Sept. 1, 2017. Her son, Bonifacio Gregori, is now in jail facing drugs charges. Her barangay is notorious as a lair for illegal drugs distribution.

Hablo’s deceased husband, Rusty, was a suspected drug peddler. He fled to Mindanao at the height of the tokhang operations of the police. But he was apprehended there in Mindanao; while in prison, he suffered from a nervous breakdown, and was reported to have committed suicide.

Which side are we on?

I am confused.
When Iloilo City was hit by a spate of murders by gunmen riding-in-tandem, apparently upon orders of drug syndicates and their corrupt protectors, there was no outcry.
I was even sued by Jed Patrick Mabilog for libel for labelling him as a crime protector.
And now La Salle and Ateneo communities are being agitated to wear black to protest the so-called extra judicial killings!
Which side are we on?
I know there are vigilante killings. But these have been going on for decades now. It’s not as if Duterte gave birth to it.
But most of the deaths in the war against illegal drugs resulted from legitimate operations.
To prove that legitimacy, we just need to count the number of PNP and PDEA agents who have died in the line of fire.
Those guys who continue to peddle shabu and other illicit drugs are desperate. They will kill to keep on with their trade. They know the authorities are hot on their trail, and they will do business armed and dangerous.
The Duterte administration should not relent on its war against illegal drugs. It must keep up the momentum. This is a fight to the finish.

An enemy from within

There’s no mistaking the fact that the battle against illegal drugs is as difficult as repulsing a foreign invader, or even harder.
That’s because the enemy is hard to detect. The pusher is not just the street pug that was the stereotype in the past. Now even a public school teacher has been caught selling drugs. Barangay officials, too, have been nabbed in buy-bust operations. They are like the Vietcong whom the Americans had to fight half a century ago in the ricefields of Vietnam: by day ordinary farmers, by night fierce warriors.
We have to accept the reality that this battle can be waged in a rule of law setting. As we have seen time and again, drug lords and pushers can afford the best legal minds to defend them in court. And even in jail, they continue to run the illegal drugs trade with impunity.
For this alone, I am prepared to see President Duterte do it with brute force. Of course, he just has to be cautioned not to waste human lives. Just the same, the authorities should not hesitate to use force when it is deemed necessary.

The year of living dangerously in Iloilo City

The year of living dangerously in Iloilo City

Two persons were seriously wounded just past midnight April 27 when unidentified suspects sprayed this car with automatic gunfire just outside the Western Visayas Medical Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.
The car’s owner, Lino Maranon, and a companion were taken to the St. Paul’s Hospital after the ambush in the busy street just 100 meters from the Mandurriao police station.
Police sources say this is apparently the handiwork of guns-for-hire, who seem to enjoy brisk business in a city run by a mayor with close links to drug lords and criminal syndicates.
Ironically, the city mayor is the chairman of the regional peace and order council. (Photo courtesy of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo)

Heavy firepower

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City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is always accompanied by Armalite-wielding security men whenever he goes around the city. His favorite place to visit is Barangay Monica, City Proper where Jing Jing Espinosa plays the role of a gracious host.