‘Dragon was considered untouchable’
ILOILO CITY—When news broke that Melvin Odicta and his wife, Meriam, had been gunned down at the Caticlan port early on Monday, the social media pages of this city’s news organizations were besieged with queries.
“Is this true? Are you sure? How can you be sure it was them?” most of the posts asked, even when photos of the couple’s bodies were circulating on social media.
Many were in disbelief that the man known as “Dragon,” the alleged top drug lord in Western Visayas, had fallen at last.
“He was considered untouchable for a long time,” said David Garcia, spokesperson of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) office in the region.
The PDEA had named Odicta, a businessman, head of one drug group in Iloilo province. Another group is led by Richard Prevendido, it said.
On Monday, Odicta and his wife were shot dead after getting off a ferry at Caticlan in Malay, Aklan province, police reported.
The lone gunman has yet to be identified, but Chief
Supt. Jose Gentiles, the regional police chief, said Odicta was likely linked to the drug trade.
“The most probable motive was that the mastermind wanted to silence the couple. Perhaps the mastermind was afraid the victims would implicate them,” Gentiles said.
Odicta had expressed fears for his life after local authorities accused him of being the top drug lord in Iloilo, his lawyer said.
The couple, who have five children, had repeatedly denied their involvement in illegal drugs. Last week, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa insisted that the businessman was the top drug lord in the region.
Three days after the couple were killed, Gentiles said Odicta’s group had been supplying illegal drugs to Iloilo and other parts of Panay Island.
Another police official, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to talk about the matter, said many high-profile killings were linked to Odicta, especially those believed to have challenged his dominance in the illegal trade.
The Odictas had always maintained that they were operating legal businesses, among them Red Paprika bar and restaurant, Melvin taxi fleet which has more than 50 units, and Meriam transport service, which has about 70 vans plying the route from Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan town, to this city.
Members of the Iloilo business community said the couple generally kept a low profile in the community.
“They rarely or do not attend social functions or events. They are also not active in business organizations,” said a business leader, who asked not to be named.
“Frankly, I have never met (Odicta) but people talk about him and his alleged involvement in illegal drugs. His reputation preceded him,” another told the Inquirer.
Odicta’s alleged reputation apparently protected his businesses, other sources said.
“I cannot recall a Melvin taxi being held up by robbers. Other taxi fleets, including the big ones, were not spared,” a taxi driver told the Inquirer.
In July, unidentified armed men commandeered and burned two Melvin taxi units in separate incidents but left their drivers unharmed and their earnings intact.
No one has been arrested or has taken responsibility for the attacks, but the cases raised speculations that vigilante groups could be responsible. Other taxi drivers, however, believed these were staged to gain sympathy.
Most Ilonggos only saw how Odicta looked after Nov. 19 last year when several men forcibly tried to enter the station of dyOK Aksyon Radyo Iloilo.
From the video footage, the PDEA identified Odicta, his son Melvin Jr. and Jesus “Jing-Jing” Espinosa Jr., a barangay councilor in the city, as among those who tried to enter the station.
A complaint of grave threat, trespass to dwelling, and robbery was filed against the three, but it was dismissed for lack of probable cause.
Odicta and his son were indicted for theft over the loss of a closed-circuit television camera costing P16,410.15.
Odicta claimed, in his counteraffidavit, that he entered the premises because he had an “uncontrollable” urge to urinate.
People employed by the Odictas described them as generous and always ready to help them.
“We get at least a sack of rice as bonus every year. We can appeal for leniency when our earnings cannot cover our boundary (rental),” a Melvin taxi driver said. “What will happen to the taxi business now that they’re gone?”
Police officials said the legitimate businesses served as cover for the couple’s illegal drug trade, their main source of income.
This was not the first drug-related case that Odicta had been involved in. In 1989, he was meted a life term and fined P20,000 by the Iloilo Regional Trial Court Branch 26 for selling 50 grams of marijuana to undercover agents of the then Narcotics Command.
On May 15, 1991, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. But the businessman was released from New Bilibid Prison in 1995, along with 48 other convicts, based on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that he had served his sentence based on a revised schedule of penalties.
An official of a law enforcement agency said Odicta could have established ties with drug lords while in prison, which he later tapped when he got out.
While there were other players in the illegal drug trade in the region, especially in recent years, Odicta was among the main players and the most feared, the official said.
The Odictas’ killing fueled concerns about extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.
More than 2,000 people have been killed since Mr. Duterte was sworn into office two months ago and immediately launched a crackdown, with the United States, the United Nations and human rights groups voicing alarm at the bloodshed.
The President has railed against his critics, accusing them of siding with drug traffickers, and warned there will be no letup.
“I consider the fight against drugs a war. There is a crisis in this country,” he said on Monday. With a report from AFP
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