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Duterte’s ‘free to kill’ order draws concern

MANILA, Philippines — Prelates and human rights advocates have raised concerns over President Duterte’s statement on Thursday that the controversial police official, Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido, was “free to kill” in Bacolod City.

“God have mercy on him and our people! Our right to life is the first of all other rights and is universal, absolute, inalienable and inviolable,” San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said.

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“I pray and hope that Espenido and the rest of our police and military ha ve enough moral integrity and will exercise critical thinking and not to take it literally,” he added.

Last week, Espenido was named deputy director for operations of the Bacolod City police.

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In a speech at the 45th Philippine Business Conference and Expo, Mr. Duterte said he had told Espenido that when “you go there (Bacolod), you are free to kill everybody.”

“Bacolod is badly hit [by illegal drugs] now. I placed Espenido there. Start killing there. Dalawa na lang tayo papreso. (Both of us can go to jail),” the President said.

Espenido was police chief of Albuera, Leyte, in 2016 when Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed inside his detention cell by policemen then serving a search warrant.

‘Irresponsible’

In 2017, Espenido was transferred to Ozamiz City and it was under his watch when Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others linked to the drug trade were killed in a series of raids.

Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon described the President’s statement as “irresponsible.”

“Coming from a President, such statement is irresponsible to say the least and utterly disrespectful of the people of Negros. God is the author of life, and he alone has the right to take it,” he said.

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Mike de la Concepcion, Bayan Negros secretary general, said Mr. Duterte’s statement just proved “how he disregards the value of life.”

“He gave license to the police to kill. It proves that the extrajudicial killings are state-sponsored,” he added.

But Espenido brushed aside the concerns and vowed to continue his “no-nonsense” campaign against illegal drugs.

“We are policemen, not criminals. We always protect the rights of the people,” Espenido told reporters at Camp Gen. Martin Delgado, the regional police headquarters in Iloilo City.

Human rights advocates also raised concern over Espenido’s new assignment, saying “this could lead to an increase in extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.”

Rule of law

Asked if the antidrug campaign in Bacolod could turn bloody, Espenido said, “It’s God’s will. [We] will follow the rule of law.”

Brig. Gen. Rene Pamuspusan, the Western Visayas police director, said Espenido would also chair the police oversight committee on anti-illegal drugs in Bacolod.

Pamuspusan described Bacolod as among the “problematic areas” on illegal drugs in Western Visayas.

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TAGS: Drug war, free-to-kill order, Gerardo Aliminaza, Jovie Espenido, Rodrigo Duterte
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