It has been almost a year since they have been publicly named by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the country’s alleged illegal drug protectors.
But in that period, no shred of proof has been presented and no case has been filed against Mayor Vicente Loot of Daanbantayan town in northern Cebu as well as former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama.
Still, Loot, Rama and their families continued to be weighed down by the humiliation they suffered from the accusations, even if these were not substantiated, because of the mere fact that they were made by no less than the President of the nation.
In August last year, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) set up Task Force Agila to handle the investigation of past and current local officials linked to illegal drugs.
The task force was dissolved in March this year with no one charged in court.
Loot, a retired police general whose name was repeatedly linked by President Duterte to the illegal drug trade, gave a deep sigh when recently asked how he had been doing since he became a perennial subject of the President’s “name-and-shame” campaign.
“You know, I don’t want to recall that anymore. Please. It’s been a harrowing year. I don’t want to talk about that again,” he said in a phone interview.
Loot said not a single case was filed against him in relation to President Duterte’s pronouncements.
“Nothing. I was never summoned to submit a counter-affidavit or any answer to those accusations,” he said.
Loot begged off from giving further comments, saying he wanted to put the issue to rest.
Aside from Loot, the other police generals who were publicly identified by the President as drug protectors were Marcelo Garbo, Joel Pagdilao,
Edgardo Tinio and Bernardo Diaz. All denied links to the drug trade.
In an earlier interview, Loot branded the accusations as “too much.”
Then and now, Loot believed that the intelligence reports fed to the President were fabricated in order to destroy him.
“I and my wife are used to being accused of being drug protectors by political opponents. We really don’t care about it. But this one is different. The accusations came from the mouth of the President. And it hurts,” he said.
He said his four children — aged 34, 27, 26 and 24 — were affected and ashamed to go out because of the accusations.
Loot headed the Central Visayas Regional Anti-Narcotics Office before he directed the Cebu Provincial Police Office from 2005 to 2007.
He was later named deputy director for operations of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), and was deputy regional director in Eastern Visayas for Region 8 (2010 to 2012).
Loot, 56, retired in July 2015 and ran for mayor of Daanbantayan last May 2016. He won over his opponent by a margin of just seven votes.
Hoping against hope
Rama, for his part, said he and his family were deeply hurt by the accusations, which he said were completely false.
“No cases were filed against us, and we were not even given the chance to answer the accusations,” he said in a phone interview.
“Obviously, what they are accusing me of is not true. I can never say that I and my family are not affected. The impact of the pronouncement stays. But if you are a reasonable and fair person, you will think that it is only politics,” he said.
Rama has been wanting to have an audience with President Duterte and even asked the help of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to facilitate the meeting.
But his efforts to meet the President remain futile.
“I am hoping that Malacañang will open its doors, but it seems that we are hoping against hope,” he said.
Rama served as mayor of Cebu City for six years before he was defeated by Mayor Tomas Osmeña in last year’s polls.
Even as he still has to live down the allegations linking him to the illegal drugs trade, Rama also suffered other political setbacks since his defeat in the polls, with several of his erstwhile allies bolting his party Team Rama and joining the now ruling Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kausawagan (BO-PK).
Amid it all, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, PRO-7 director, said they did not receive any directive to conduct an investigation against Loot and Rama.
Nonetheless, Taliño described the drug problem in Central Visayas, and Cebu in particular, as “atrocious.”
He said five of the country’s biggest drug lords were from Cebu and had bases of operations in the province.
The narcotics trade thrived, he said, because of protection by police and local officials.
“If they did not enjoy protection, they would not have the guts to operate,” Taliño said of the drug syndicates in the region.
Taliño said an investigation had been conducted on the death of suspected drug lord Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz, who was killed by Cebu-based policemen in an operation in Las Piñas City in Metro Manila on June 17, 2016.
“There had been reports that Jaguar was killed by the police to silence him,” said Taliño.
It has been a year since then, but Taliño said he was still “waiting for the results of the investigation.”
Diaz, a native of Barangay Duljo Fatima in Cebu City and tagged as Central Visayas’ biggest drug lord, was one of the five top drug suspects who operated from Cebu.
The four others are Peter Lim, Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr., Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria and Franz Sabalones, according to the police.
Businessman Peter Lim, whose name repeatedly cropped up in drug investigations since early 2000, denied involvement in the drug trade, saying he was not the Peter Lim tagged in illegal drugs.
Where are they now?
Espinosa, whose roots were traced to Cebu, was dubbed as the biggest drug lord in Eastern Visayas.
He was arrested by the police in Abu Dhabi in October 2016 shortly after his father, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., was arrested also for his alleged involvement in the drug trade.
But even as Kerwin has admitted his links to the drug trade and insisted his father had nothing to do with his illegal activities, he was unable to prevent the death of his father.
Less than a month after, Rolando Sr. was killed inside the sub-provincial jail in Baybay City after he allegedly engaged policemen in a firefight.
The policemen involved in his killing, led by Supt. Marvin Marcos, have been charged with murder, but last May, the Department of Justice decided to downgrade the complaint to homicide to the dismay of senators who investigated the case through the Senate committee on public order and found that the murder of Espinosa and his fellow inmate Raul Yap inside their cells in Baybay, Leyte, was premeditated.
Kerwin Espinosa is still held at Camp Crame, the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police.
Sabalones, on the other hand, surrendered to Director General Ronald dela Rosa, the PNP chief, in August 2016 and confessed that he assumed control of the drug trade in Cebu after “Jaguar” Diaz was killed in Las Piñas.
Sabalones, a native of San Fernando town, southern Cebu, has since been released from detention but has remained mum about his whereabouts.
Last March, the Court of Appeals has issued a freeze order on the assets of Sabalones, which included his bank accounts and properties in various areas in Cebu on suspicion by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) that these assets were used to launder drug money.
His assets covered by the freeze order included P76 million in deposits in three bank accounts, six lots, a beach resort in San Fernando, six sports utility vehicles and a 6.4-hectare poultry farm.
Secretaria, also a native of Cebu City, was killed in a police operation on Banacon Island in Bohol on May 28, 2016.
It was on Banacon Island, where Secretaria owned a seaside mansion, that he operated and directed his drug operation that covered both Cebu and Bohol.
Amid allegations by some island residents that Secretaria was executed when he was about to surrender, the police maintained he fought back and was killed in a legitimate operation.
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