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Armed to the teeth

Back when drug lords were still demi-gods in Iloilo City, pictures of goons under their payroll were often posted on social media to boast about their power and closeness to political leaders.

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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?