Clear and present danger: city mayor and drug lords are bosom friends in Iloilo City

The first time the name of Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa came out in the news happened sometime in 1993 when he was accused of murdering a deaf-mute who had done nothing to provoke him.

Jing Jing, as he is popularly known, happened to pass by when the victim, Augusto Elon, was urinating in front of their house. He shot him three times at close range. The victim died instantly.

Jed is a frequent visitor to Jing Jing Espinosa’s residence in Barangay Monica. He is a godfather to one of Jing Jing’s children.

The Regional Trial Court of Iloilo found Jing Jing guilty of murder and sentenced him to 10-17 years in prison. After serving his prison term, Jing Jing returned to the “waterfront” area in Barangay Monica.

Sources in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said Jing Jing became friends with a known drug lord while he was in jail. They became business associates upon getting out of jail, the sources said.

“Jing Jing is now a big-time drug lord in Iloilo City,” said a relative in Barangay Monica. His house there is almost like a tower overlooking the waterfront area. It is five stories tall.

In June 2010, Jing Jing’s name again hit the news when a relative, Pascual “Toto E” Espinosa and his brother, Leo, were ambushed on Zamora St., City Proper. “Toto”, a former executive assistant at City Hall during the Malabor administration, suffered wounds but survived. Jing Jing was accused as the perpetrator.

When the case was filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office, Jing Jing asked that the entire prosecutor’s office be inhibited from handling the investigation. The case is still pending before the Department of Justice.

That was the second time “Toto E” was ambushed, allegedly by Jing Jing. In an earlier incident, “Toto E” suffered scratches after his relative allegedly fired at him near a church in the waterfront area.

According to sources, Jing Jing was also convicted of the crime of frustrated murder. The conviction is pending appeal before the Court of Appeals.

Jing Jing is described as a very violent individual. His rise as a drug lord has enabled him to control the entire waterfront area and keeps the police force assigned to the area under his beck and call, according to another relative interviewed for this article.

Because of this, the police is virtually helpless in stopping crimes taking place in the area. One resident said there is hardly a night when there are no gunfire bursts to shatter the quiet evening; the police could do nothing about it, she said.

Jing Jing Espinosa has his own private army in Barangay Monica, armed with heavy firepower. When Mabilog and Trenas visit him, even barangay tanods are issued machine pistols to beef up security.

“Jing Jing is untouchable in the waterfront, and this is largely because of his close friendship with Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog,” an informant in the area said.

Mabilog, the informant said, is a frequent visitor to Jing Jing’s house. This information is validated by the numerous photographs that surfaced over social media networks these last few days showing Mabilog and Jing Jing together.

“Mabilog is the godfather of one of Jing Jing’s children,” said another source. “Mag-kumpare sila,” he added.

When Mabilog was asked about his association with Jing Jing, he told local media there was nothing wrong with it. He even dismissed the issue as “non-sense”.

But the spread of the photographs showing Mabilog and Jing Jing on intimate terms shows many Ilonggos are bothered by this friendship.

Former Iloilo City congressman Raul Gonzalez Jr. sent a text message that in Davao City, drug pushers flee upon seeing the approach of former City Mayor, and now Vice Mayor, Rodrigo Duterte.

“In Iloilo City, our city mayor and congressman (Jerry P. Trenas) even wine and dine with drug lords,” Gonzalez said.

One of the photographs that circulated on the Internet also shows Trenas, along with Vice Mayor Joe Espinosa III and Liga ng mga Barangay federation president Bobby Divinagracia, enjoying a meal with Jing Jing.

There are worries that the intimacy between Mabilog and Jing Jing is the reason the illegal drugs problem has flourished in Iloilo City.

“Mabilog has kept a tight rein on law enforcement authorities and prevented them from pursuing drug pushers in the city,” one police officer, who asked not to be identified, said.

Crime busting

A spate of crimes that hit Iloilo City during the last few days has forced police authorities to review a novel concept of taking away patrol vehicles from the direct control of police stations and deploying them in designated pre-position locations supposedly to increase visibility. From the start, the idea received negative feedback from the local media because it tended to handicap a very important component of police work — mobility. It was a trial-and-error approach that apparently backfired, and now, City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is a very unhappy man. He can’t allow the city to build a name as “crime city”.

Perhaps this is the result of having a city police director who is not an Ilonggo. Effective police work is not just about a show of authority and presence. It delves into culture and knowledge of the community. When a police official is a stranger to a community, it’s hard for him to understand the dynamics of its people, and harder still to gain the trust and cooperation of the community. This is something that Mayor Mabilog should now try to understand if he wants the situation to shift from bad to good. The failure of the police will be his failure.

Like any other growing city, Iloilo has always had its share of crimes. But in the past, we saw our police directors stay a step ahead of crime, and murders and robberies were occasional incidents rather than a string of cases in a short period of time. In the late 80s, we had the late Col. Achilles Plagata (who became a city councilor) serve as Metrodiscom (forerunner of.  the ICPO) chief, and I think it was a model of how effective police leadership is carried out. In those days, police conducted nightly patrols in the city’s watering holes and checked for weapons. Checkpoints were conducted even when there is no gun ban. And I think it wasn’t a matter of style — the police commander knew his community and he wanted to keep it safe for its people.

Being police chief isn’t an 8 to 5 job. It is a full-time job, meaning 24/7. Even while a commander is home with his family, half of his mind is still occupied by what is happening around the community. It’s not uncommon for good police chiefs to stay up late with the men, especially when an enforcement operation is 0n-going. As former provincial administrator of Iloilo, I saw this trait in among a number of PNP provincial directors, notable among whom was P/SSUPT Ricardo de la Paz. The likes of Ric de la Paz made local officials comfortable that crime syndicates are kept on the run, rather than them dictating the tempo. The record of Iloilo province as one of the most peaceful in the country during the incumbency of Governor Niel Tupas Sr. is the envy of many LGUs.