An invitation extended by Malacañang to Cebu’s mayors wasn’t exactly just for alliance building, though that was also important seeing that President Rodrigo Duterte had been harping of late about the ouster plot supposedly hatched against him with the blessings of Washington.
President Duterte also took occasion to trumpet anew his administration’s war on illegal drugs, and this time, he took aim at the mayors whom he suspects are involved in the drug trade like the slain Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
“As long as I’m President, these big ‘shabu’ dealers will die, and the next batch would really be these mayors. I will call them and lock them up. I will talk to them. With the thick document I showed you, I will tell them, ‘Look for your name there mayor, you son of a bitch. If your name is there, you have a problem. I will really kill you.’”
Tough talk is par for the course for President Duterte, whose televised meeting with drug suspect and Chinese businessman Peter Lim was all bluster, but still, no solid case can be filed and prosecuted in court.
There is little doubt in the minds not only of critics but allies that Mayor Espinosa’s death was aimed at providing proof that the Duterte administration is deadly serious about its war, which had racked up thousands of casualties six months into the President’s tenure.
That six months’ war also showed that, while the body count may be climbing, the supply isn’t drying up but merely finding its way through every opening available, from ordinary trisikad drivers to even high-ranking police and military officers and local officials.
In Central Visayas alone, the Police Regional Office had recorded at least P190 million worth of drugs that were seized in the region. Where it came from when one of its alleged key distributors, Kerwin Espinosa, was in hiding until he was arrested late last year, only the President and his top advisers can tell.
If anything, the public would prefer that the President dispense with the daily tough talk and just proceed with arresting and detaining the mayors allegedly involved in the drug trade en masse if necessary should his people gather all the evidence to build their cases against them.
Otherwise, the President is risking not only losing support from local officials — which he may not care about considering that he sees the presidency as a one shot, six-year deal — but also inviting public backlash should he come up empty on his antidrug rhetoric.
Or his latest tirade against local officials may have its intended effect especially in Cebu where not a few local officials have been tied to illegal drugs and at least one former mayor is kept busy trying to clear his name.
Whatever it may hold for the mayors, the President’s warning should be followed up with bigger fish being tried, not executed, and their drug empire dismantled for good.