File photo shows detained lawmaker Leila de Lima.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File
Robredo, De Lima slam early retirement for 'celebrity cops'
Franco Luna ( - February 17, 2020 - 4:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Leila De Lima on Monday slammed what she said were cops who were handed retirement as a way of sidestepping accountability for their inclusion in the so-called narco-list. 

This comes after reports over the past week that decorated officer Jovie Espenido, who once received a medal for his participation in President Rodrigo Duterte's 'war on drugs,' was included among 357 other police officers who were suspected of having ties to illegal drugs. 

Philippine National Police chief Archie Gamboa refused to comment on the issue further, even expressing that the inquiries of reporters insulted him. In a later interview with ANC's "Headstart," Gamboa said he would neither confirm nor deny Espenido's alleged inclusion, citing the need to give the officer impartiality. 

"I want them to enjoy the impartiality that they should be afforded of [and] hopefully everybody is going to respect the confidentiality issue that I brought up. I would rather stick to my promise to the 357 and observe confidentiality and be subjected to all kinds of conclusions," he said. 

'Glossing over involvement'

Even Malacañang vouched for the decorated lieutenant colonel, with presidential mouthpiece Salvador Panelo saying at a press briefing on Friday that Espenido "continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the President."

"After the so-called 'ninja' cops, now the celebrity cops. They are the police officers the PNP has generously gifted with a graceful exit through optional retirement as a way of glossing over their involvement in illegal drugs," De Lima wrote in a dispatch Monday.

"Ano ito fan club? Nasaan ang pananagutan sa batas? Hindi nireregaluhan ng magarbong retirement plan ang taong-gobyerno na nagkasala sa batas at uniporme, kundi pinananagot sa husgado."

(Is this a fan club? Where is the legal responsibility? Government workers who violate the law and the uniform should be held accountable at court and should not be gifted fancy retirements.)

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Sunday also said Espenido would still have to go through the proper adjudication process.

And despite his defense of the officer's impartiality and confidentiality, Gamboa, too has said, "I promise the public: If ever they are involved, we will pursue them."

'Toleration of abuse'

On her radio show Sunday, Vice President Leni Robredo said that offering erring cops such an option would damage public trust in the national police. 

"Kaya ako, hindi sang-ayon sa ginagawang leadership, hindi lang dito kay Espenido pero kahit nung nasa ICAD ako na imbis na ipakita na hindi nila tino-tolerate ang abuses, galit pa sila kapag pinupuna," Robredo said during her weekly radio show.

(That's why for me, I don't approve of the current leadership, not just because of Espenido's controversy, but also because when I was in the ICAD, instead of showing that the PNP does not tolerate any abuses, they would get mad about getting criticized.)

Gamboa was named the chief of police on January 17. His predecessor, former Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde, announced his retirement after going on "non-duty" status over allegations that he had tried to protect his subordinates over discrepancies in a drug raid in Pampanga in 2013. At the time, sources confirmed that Albayalde would still be handed full retirement benefits, including his pension, since no cases were filed against him. 

But Albayalde has since been indicted "for persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations in connection with the official duties of the latter, and for causing any undue injury to any party, including the government."

"Kapag 'yung stance ng kapulisan, pinapakita na parang pinagtatakpan pa, dito nag-uumpisa 'yung erosion ng trust ng tao," Robredo added.

(If the stance of the police still favors these wrongdoings, this is where the erosion of public trust starts.)

"Bakit kapag pobre ang naligaw ang landas dahil sa droga pinapatumba agad? Pero kapag pulis o opisyal ng gobyerno ang kumikita sa droga ay ginagawaran pa ng maagang retirement," De Lima said.

(Why is it that if a person is poor but loses their way because of drugs, they're taken out right away? But if it's a policeman or official of the government who's even earning from drugs, they allow for an early retirement.)

"This is not a simple case of setting an example for the police force. This is a serious case of coddling illegal drug activity, and the law must hold those involved to account."

Narco-list or hit list?

Just days ago on the night February 10, a Maguindanao mayor, who had been named in the government narco-list, was gunned down outside a hotel in Quirino Avenue in Manila

"Ito ang sumisira sa imahe ng kapulisan at sa moral ng mga pulis na tapat sa serbisyo. Kung tutuusin, dapat unang lansagin ang droga sa hanay ng gobyerno," De Lima said.

(This destroys the image of the police and the morale of police officers loyal to the service. If anything, drugs must first be dismantled at the government level.)

The president's initial narco-list was read aloud during a live press conference in 2016 and included politicians, lawmakers and judges alike.

But this was only the first: later on March 14, 2019, Duterte once again released a separate list of 46 other local government officials whom he also linked to the illegal drug trade. The Presidential Communications Operations Office publicized this second list that can be accessed by anyone online.

The Commission on Human Rights has long slammed the creation and subsequent publication of such lists, saying they could potentially serve as hit lists. 

"The rule of law must be prioritized above all; the release of the supposed narco-list in 2016 was a violation of due process and has predictably led to violence," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

"Judgement and justice can only be achieved by going through the proper channels. This continued bloodshed is a failure of the State in protecting its citizens, as primary duty bearers and protectors of human rights."

Malacañang said the intention behind publicizing the 2019 list was to inform voters' decisions in the midterm elections so they would not vote for those with alleged links to the illegal drug trade, but groups including the commission have called it a potential hit list. 

According to the CHR, at least 13 mayors fell victim to similar killings between July 2016 and August 2019. 

"Good governance cannot come if public servants are living in fear; action must be taken before more lives are lost, so that we can focus on working towards a better Philippines," De Guia said. 

"This cycle of violence must be addressed, for its lasting effects and consequences are already being felt."

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