Responding to news that President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed a newly promoted Bacolod City police executive to “kill everybody” because of the proliferation of illegal drugs there, Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director, said:
“Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido should not have been promoted and appointed to a senior position in the first place, given his involvement in bloody operations in the past. Others like him have also been transferred and promoted, instead of being held accountable for the thousands of killings in the government’s ‘war on drugs’. It appears that under this administration, not only illegal drugs but also errant cops are being recycled, and, more worryingly, rewarded.
“Duterte’s blatant and continued incitement to kill has only resulted in thousands of extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Four years on, justice remains elusive for the families of those killed. Instead of such threatening pronouncements, the government must initiate credible and effective investigations into police abuses, including allegations of their involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“This encouragement of bloodshed must end once and for all, and efforts toward this must begin at the highest levels of government, notably the President himself. We reiterate that an important first step to ending this cycle of violence and impunity is to direct the police to stop the killings and bring to justice those found to be involved in previous abusive operations.”
During a speech at a business conference in Manila on 17 October, President Duterte told newly promoted Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido, now Bacolod City’s deputy director for operations, that he is “free to kill everybody” in the city that is “badly hit” by illegal drugs. “Bacolod is badly hit (by illegal drugs) now. I placed Espenido there. I said, go there, you are free to kill everybody. Start killing there. The two of us can go to jail,” Duterte was quoted as saying.
During Espenido’s stint as Albuera, Leyte police chief in 2016, then mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed in his cell by police officers who were reportedly serving search warrant. In 2017, Espenido was transferred to Ozamiz City where then Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and over a dozen others allegedly linked to the drug trade were also killed in a series of anti-drug police raids.
On 14 October 2019, Philippine National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde resigned from his post amid an intensifying drugs-related scandal. Former police executives had linked him to the cover-up of a drug “recycling” job in 2013, whereby illicit drugs seized in a police operation were later sold. Albayalde has denied the accusations against him.
Thousands of people have been killed in a wave of state-sanctioned violence since the start of President Duterte’s presidency in 2016. In July 2019, Amnesty International published a report, “They just kill”: Ongoing extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations in the Philippines ‘war on drugs’ which documented how police commanders who previously supervised abusive operations in Manila were later transferred to Central Luzon and have continued to oversee a brutal killings campaign in the province. Amnesty International considers that the killings reach the threshold of crimes against humanity.