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‘Bato’ tears up

Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa broke down and cried during yesterday’s hearing in the Senate. Belying his tough-guy nickname and reputation, the country’s top cop apparently could no longer take the accusations made by alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa that Bato’s men in Leyte were very much involved in the illegal drug trade that he ran so lucratively for many years.

It must have been really hard for Bato to hear Espinosa’s testimony, especially since he has repeatedly proclaimed that the police force is making giant inroads in the war declared by President Rodrigo Duterte against illegal drug syndicates. And yet, in his long narration of his life as a self-made regional drug lord, Kerwin once again proved the now-common belief that the police is very much to blame for the proliferation of illegal narcotics.

It was Inspector Jovie Espenido, the straight-talking chief of police of Albuera, the town that was the epicenter of the Espinosa drug syndicate (and the most credible of the police officials who were at the hearing, in my opinion), who said it best: There will be no illegal drug problem if the policemen were not involved in the nefarious trade.

(A morose Dela Rosa, under questioning by Senator Richard Gordon, admitted that he was also disappointed in Espenido, after hearing allegations that he, too, had received bribes. Espenido, when he was given the chance to speak, apologized for letting Bato down, even as he denied Espinosa’s charge that he received bribe money, as well.)

It was easy to see that Dela Rosa was not in his element in the Senate. Here is a police official who thrives in the field, chasing criminals and other people wanted by the law; Bato, for instance, never looked happier as when he presented Ronnie Dayan the other day at Camp Crame, where the long search for the former driver-lover of Senator Leila de Lima ended.

Yet there was Dela Rosa, cooped up in the Senate for the whole day, listening to politicians jostling for camera face-time and to the very damaging allegations of bribery made by Kerwin against his men. It’s enough to make a hard-ass cop cry.

Dela Rosa, of course, has taken on the superhuman task of leading the charge in Duterte’s war on drugs. Even at this late date and despite his obvious frustration, Bato has vowed never to give up and to give his all in the fight.

Dela Rosa’s predicament is not even something that is limited to the police. It is a phenomenon that is endemic in all of government, especially when people like Duterte and Dela Rosa arrive on the scene and want to stop corruption and official malfeasance.

I think Dela Rosa deserves all the support from a citizenry that, by voting for Duterte, expressed its desire to put an end to the country’s headlong descent into narco-statism. Bato may feel sometimes like he’s butting his shiny head against a wall—it is up to everyone who is fed up with the drug syndicates’ destructive, life-draining grip on the lives of millions of Filipinos to show Dela Rosa how valuable and appreciated his work is.

* * *

Expectedly, the police officials present at the hearing took exception to Espinosa’s wide-ranging allegations of corruption. This was particularly true of the officials of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas who were implicated in the highly irregular killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside his jail cell—including Superintendent Marvin Marcos, who dissolved in tears like Dela Rosa himself when he denied Espinosa’s claim that he demanded money from Kerwin in order to finance his wife’s failed mayoralty run in Leyte.

But the CIDG in Region 8, much like Kerwin Espinosa himself, suffers from a crisis of credibility. The Senate committee, of course, is conducting this particular investigation because Mayor Espinosa was killed (some say in cold blood) by the police, supposedly to prevent him from telling all he knows about the syndicate run by his son.

It is unfortunate that the police (or at least one small unit of it assigned in one far-flung region) elicits about the same sympathy as a self-confessed drug lord. But this should not deter the PNP leadership and the Duterte administration from pursuing its campaign against illegal drugs.

The cleansing process must continue, not only to rid the country of illegal drug lords and their murderous products, but also of the policemen who make a lucrative living on the side as the protectors of drug rings. None of them deserve to continue on as if nothing happened.

* * *

Speaking of Gordon, it is to his credit that, late in the hearing, he pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room—the supposed involvement of De Lima in this whole sorry spectacle. Gordon called the attention of Espinosa to a controversial picture purportedly taken in Baguio City featuring Kerwin, his common-law wife and the then-secretary of justice.

None of the other senators delved into De Lima’s involvement with Espinosa, as if they were hell-bent on according her some weird form of parliamentary courtesy. This aspect of the Espinosa case, unlike the apparent complicity of some members of the police in Kerwin’s syndicate, is still far from being settled.

Espinosa implicated De Lima’s paramour Dayan in his long and detail-filled testimony. I guess we’ll just have to hear the version of Dayan himself soon.

Topics: Jojo Robles , ‘Bato’ tears up , Philippine National Police , Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa , illegal drug trade , Senate hearing
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