The problem of illegal drugs in Cebu, in the words of police general Noli Taliño, has become atrocious.
With five of the country’s top suspected drug lords tracing their roots in and operations to Cebu, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), finds it a tough challenge to address the drug menace.
“Malaki ang ating problema (We have a big problem here),” he said in an interview yesterday.
Taliño likewise revealed another big problem, the reason why drug lords thrive: there are police officers still in active service under his command who are suspected to be drug protectors.
“Until now, I know there are still policemen who continue to be part of illegal drug groups here in Cebu. There are still those who are not loyal to the police organization. To be honest, I do not know who are with me although I know some policemen who are trustworthy,” he said.
“The problem on illegal drugs in Cebu is atrocious. But I accepted the challenge to be assigned here. When I assumed as PRO-7 director, I advised our policemen to stop their involvement in illegal drugs now because I will make sure they will be removed not just in Cebu but in the police service. People like them do not have a place in the PNP,” he added.
Based on their monitoring, Taliño said the policemen in the region involved in the illegal drugs are either a protectors of drug dealers or are themselves trading drugs.
“I have a list of these policemen and it’s being validated. I can’t tell you the number (right now) but what I am sure of is there are still some police protectors in the region,” he said.
Five Cebuanos — namely Peter Lim, Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr., Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria, Franz Sabalones, and Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz — hit the headlines after they were identified as among the big-time drug lords in the country.
Two of them — Espinosa and Sabalones — have confessed their participation in the illegal drugs trade, while Diaz, considered as Central Visayas’ top drug lord, was killed in a police operation last June 17, barely a week after he expressed his intent to surrender and squeal on his connections and protectors.
Secretaria was killed in another police operation on Banacon Island in Bohol last May 28, three weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential race.
PRO-7 is expecting other members of the drug syndicates to take over the places of Diaz, Espinosa, Secretaria and Sabalones, according to Taliño.
On the other hand, Lim, a prominent Cebuano businessman whose name cropped up in police investigations since the early 2000s, repeatedly denied any involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
Espinosa, testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, claimed to have been giving out millions of pesos in protection money to policemen across all ranks in Leyte, where he operated his drug trade. He claimed that in Cebu, where he used to operate as an underling of Jaguar, it was the latter who took care of the “SOP,” short for the “standard operating procedure” in dealing with corrupt cops.
Another Cebuano, retired police general and now Daanbantayan town Mayor Vicente Loot, was among the five top police officials identified as illegal drug “protectors” by President Rodrigo Duterte last July.
Aside from Loot, also named drug coddlers by the President were retired Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr., Director Joel Pagdilao, and Chief Superintendents Bernardo Diaz and Edgardo Tinio.
Loot repeatedly denied the accusations against him, saying there are people who just wanted to destroy his name and reputation.
Taliño said the illegal drugs trade in Cebu and other parts of Central Visayas thrived due to the presence of “protectors” in the police and local government units.
“If they (drug lords) do not enjoy protection, they do not have the guts to operate,” he said.
Before he assumed his post last July 4, Taliño said officials in Camp Crame already cautioned him about a number of policemen coddling drug personalities in Cebu.
“I was briefed in advance by officers in Camp Crame. They gave me some information, and so when I arrived in Cebu I was careful,” he said.
Upon his assumption in office, Taliño recalled that one particular police official gave him numerous information about the illegal drugs trade in Cebu, while another official told him another version.
“Para bang nagsisipsip (It seemed they were sucking up to me),” he said.
Confused, Taliño said he validated the reports and found out that one of the police officials, whom he did not identify, was also involved in illegal drugs.
Camp Crame, which has been monitoring policemen in the country, ordered the relief of the police official and transferred him outside the region.
“He tried to distort intelligence information so I would get the wrong information. Nawala na siya ngayon. Tama lang naman na naalis na siya (He is no longer here. It’s but proper to remove him from the region),” he said.
At least 200 policemen in Central Visayas were relieved from their respective posts and transferred to other parts of the country since July 1.
The orders from Camp Crame did not cite the reasons behind the relief. But Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa explained, when he visited Cebu last July, that those transferred to other regions were linked to illegal drugs.
Dela Rosa said there was a need to transfer them to another location to disrupt the illegal drugs operation in Cebu and Central Visayas.
Jaguar death probe
Taliño said the PNP is also conducting an investigation on the death of Jaguar Diaz who was killed by Cebu-based policemen in an operation in Las Piñas City last June 17.
“There have been reports that Jaguar was killed by the police to silence him. I am waiting for the results of the investigation,” he said.
Taliño earlier ordered the mass relief of all 67 operatives of the Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (RAIDSOTF) and the Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG) who faced accusations of a rubout in the death of Diaz last June 17, and Secretaria on Banacon Island last May 28.
Supt. George Ylanan, former head of RSOG, and Supt. Rex Derilo, chief of the Regional Intelligence Division, were among those relieved from their posts and transferred to Mindanao.
But when Ylanan and Derilo were named drug protectors by Sabalones last September, the two police colonels were directed to report to the Holding and Accounting Unit in Camp Crame while an investigation is being conducted.
Both Ylanan and Derilo denied the accusations against them.
But Taliño said they need to validate every information relayed to them to be fair to those accused of coddling drug lords.
“I continue to receive text messages about this or that policeman. But we need to validate all these because they might only be intended to destroy the reputation of the police,” he said.
Taliño, the former chief of the Special Actions Force (SAF), said he won’t stop until he would be able to clean Cebu and Central Visayas from all police scalawags.
Taliño is also optimistic that the government led by President Duterte will be able to address the issues currently hounding the PNP and the country.
“President Duterte is really a blessing in disguise. Now is the time to eradicate illegal drugs. We should help each other to realize this dream,” he said.
When President Duterte assumed office, Taliño said the police were motivated to lead the relentless campaign against illegal drugs.
“Although we have policemen who are involved in the illegal drugs trade, this should not affect our morale. Our internal cleansing continues. I believe that if we will be able to clean our ranks, half of the problem on illegal drugs is solved. Drug lords won’t be successful without protection from the police,” he said.
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