BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The bibingka (rice cakes) for Jovie Espenido’s presscon came in two flavors – ube and cheese – and there was bread pudding, too.
Outside the Katilingban Hall of the police office in Bacolod City, Lt. Col. Ariel Pico, local PNP spokesman, chatted with women police personnel who were busy preparing the snacks served on paper plates with a bottle of water each.
Inside, the briefing hall was full of reporters who arrived early in the day.
Around 9 am.
Outside, at the gates, policemen in digital camo tactical gear had their fingers ready on the triggers of their assault rifles.
“Huwag kayong magtanong ng mga tanong na kinopya sa ibang reporter (Don’t ask questions that you copied from other reporters),” the lone policeman in the middle of the room said before the open forum started.
His General Office Attire (GOA) Type “A” uniform indicated he was a commissioned officer.
Almost all were there — radio reporters streaming the presscon live, newspaper correspondents, TV personalities, even Chino Gaston and his crew who flew in from Manila — seemingly hanging on to every word the man was saying in a mix of Bisaya, Filipino, and, sometimes, halting English.
There were a lot of “maybes,” “possibles,” “conscience,” “perhaps” spoken.
And Bible verses.
A lot of them.
The man was not a pastor or a priest or a rabbi.
He was Jovie Espenido.
A police lieutenant colonel who was, from October last year until last week, anti-drug czar in the highly-urbanized city of Bacolod.
He was sent here by the President with an order said in public to “kill everybody.”
Several were killed under his watch as Drug Enforcement Unit head and deputy director for operations.
One was a Muslim trader, the other a brother of a former city councilor. There were two others who turned up dead on roadsides.
No attempt was made to hide the bodies.
Like press releases written in blood, shattered heads and splattered brains.
The police said all cases were “drug-related.”
No one said it was his handiwork.
But tongues wagged.
“Iya gid ni ni Espenido (It is Espenido’s doing),” self-styled analysts say in hushed tones, sometimes out loud, to those who would care to listen in coffeeshops.
But they usually do it in hushed tones.
Before him as he spoke his prologue to reporters were several pages of short bond papers with handwritten notes. (READ also: “Someone” in the PNP made a mistake, Jovie says)
In blue ink.
For more than an hour, he traced his significant assignments — from Ozamiz City where the powerful Parojinog family, said to be behind the biggest drug syndicate there, fell during his stint, to the arrest of Mayor Rolando Espinosa in Albuera, Leyte.
As reporters brushed off bibingka crumbs off their pants, he started answering questions, answers that were mostly indirect, like dropping bread crumbs on a forest trail.
The collar light of the conference microphone cast a red hue on his face as he apologized to his superiors.
“Sorry, maam, sir pero ngalan ko na nakataya dito (Sorry, ma’am, sir but my name is at stake here),” he said, looking at the cameras and bowing his head slightly.
The day before, his direct superior, PNP chief Archie Gamboa, who he calls “Chief PNP,” was quoted as saying that Espenido will be investigated for having said that his inclusion in the PRRD or President’s narcolist was a “failure of intelligence.”
He did not deny having said it but told the local press that that reporter asked him towards the end of a phone interview, “sir, last na lang. Yes or no lang po. Is it a failure of intelligence?”
He said he could have answered “yes.”
Then he praised his Chief PNP. He was thankful, he said that Dir. Gen. Archie Gamboa called him to a meeting in Camp Crame to tell him that an adjudication process had been initiated for the 357 policemen included in the list.
“I am so thankful that finally the policemen included will walk with their heads held high if it can be proven that they are not involved; I really appreciate what the Chief PNP has done.”
As for Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, SILG, who was quoted to have confirmed his inclusion, Espenido also praised him.
“The SILG proved there was transparency, that whoever is in that list will not be given special treatment.”
“Who is after you?” broadcast journalist Yasmin Dormido asked, short and sweet.
In so many words, Espenido answered it. He said he is not God to say for certain who these people are.
He said it could not be out of envy.
“Hindi naman ako pogi (I am not handsome),” he said, seemingly in jest.
Then he pointed towards the cameras and said “I do believe,” and looked straight at the lenses, “that the one looking at me, you are guilty.”
Later he added “small time politicians” could be involved after he said Bacolod is “shabulized,” but did not exactly say who they are.
“Greedy persons,” was how he described them.
It was near noon when the presscon broke up. Reporters had Espenido autograph their notebooks, TV production assistants folded camera tripods.
“I am not working against government for the government is composed of us, the people,” he told DNX.
“I am working against some of the workers of this government.”
Just like the President, his “divine intervention,” he said.
It is not the first time Jovie Espenido had a short stint in one place.
He leaves as quickly as he arrives.
Like his and his President’s cryptic messages, it remains a mystery if Jovie Espenido can survive this issue against him.
What is clear is his unwavering support to the drug war.
As reporters file out of the room, Lt. Col. Pico tells them “there’s another buy bust.”
The reporters go on their way.
The war on drugs continues.