By Jennifer P. Rendon and Louine Hope Conserva
TWO village chiefs who were investigated by the Iloilo City Council for allegedly coddling the illegal drug trade secured fresh mandates from their constituencies in the May 14, 2018 barangay elections.
Punong Barangay Keith “Dabing” Espinosa of Monica-Blumentritt, City Proper and Remia Prevendido-Gregori of Bakhaw, Mandurriao will serve three more years amid accusations that they coddled family members who allegedly helmed the illegal drug trade in the city.
Espinosa, who defeated her grandfather Frank “Antak” Espinosa, is the wife of alleged high-value drug personality Jesus “Jing-Jing” Espinosa Jr.
Jing-Jing, who used to be a barangay kagawad of Monica-Blumentritt, is now incarcerated at the Iloilo District Jail in Pototan, Iloilo. He is considered as one of the most trusted men of suspected drug personality Melvin Odicta Sr. who was gunned down in Aklan in August 2016.
In October 2016, a string of criminal and administrative charges was filed against Keith Espinosa and two other village officials relative to a police anti-illegal drug raid against her husband.
The now-defunct Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Group 6 (RAIDSOTG-6), accused them of obstruction of justice, corrupt practices, grave misconduct, conduct unbecoming, and irregularity in the performance of duty under Section 1 paragraphs (e) and (h) of PD 1829 under Sections 3 (a) of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and other pertinent rules and regulations.
Gregori defeated her challenger Ronnie Tejam. She is a sister of another alleged drug lord, Richard Prevendido, who was also shot dead in a police operation in Jaro district in late 2017.
Gregori’s son is also behind bars for illegal drug cases.
In October 2016, the Iloilo City Council probed Gregori, Espinosa and Noemi Jablo of Desamparados, Jaro for the alleged proliferation of prohibited drugs in their respective villages.
The council later exonerated Jablo while Gregori and Espinosa were found guilty of gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.
But unlike her fellow village chiefs, Jablo lost her re-election bid.
The three lady village officials also submitted themselves to the PNP’s Oplan Tokhang but they staunchly denied their alleged links to the illegal drug trade in their village.
Gregori said her victory means that her constituents did not buy the accusations against her.
Meanwhile, Punong Barangay Noel “Nene” Odicta of Tanza Esperanza, City Proper also won as barangay kagawad.
Noel is the brother of Melvin Odicta.
Punong Barangay Gemma Calzado of Barangay Kasing-Kasing, Molo, Iloilo City also won a seat in the barangay council. She is the lone village chief named in the latest narco-list of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Meanwhile, Mayor Jose Espinosa III of Iloilo City said the people have decided and they have to abide by it. He claimed the people knew who are involved in the illegal drugs and it’s their choice if they still elect them.
Chief Superintendent Cesar Hawthorne Binag, Western Visayas police chief, said they will continue to monitor village officials who were tagged in the illegal drug trade.
“Part of our efforts is to validate their activities. We would be watching them,” Binag said.
As to the reason why they still won, Binag said it is the people who choose the leaders they want.
Binag said the people have already decided based on their own reasons and convictions.
The May 14 polls also saw couples winning key barangay seats in Iloilo City.
Data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) showed that Marites I. Belleza succeeded her husband and outgoing barangay captain Sumakwel A. Nava of Libertad, Lapuz.
Nava, the father of City Councilor Plaridel Nava, was elected No. 1 kagawad, which puts him in a position to replace Belleza and serve as barangay captain once more under the rule of succession.
In Punong, Lapuz, village chief Titz T. Asturias was reelected while her husband Arnel D. Asturias won as No. 1 barangay kagawad.
Darme Grace C. Ventura won the chairmanship of Brgy. Sinikway, Lapuz while her husband and incumbent village chief Felix A. Ventura occupied the fifth spot in the barangay council.
Comelec-6 records also showed several siblings who were both elected as barangay captain and number one village councilor.
As of 5 p.m. on May 15, 2018, the delivery of election results to Comelec-Iloilo City was almost complete.
Out of the 180 barangays in the city, 25 villages in La Paz district have yet to submit the Certificates of Canvass of Votes which will lead to the proclamation of the winners.
The records also showed that 45 barangays in City Proper district have finished the counting; Jaro with 42; Molo with 25; Mandurriao, 18; and Arevalo, 13; and Lapuz, 12 villages.
Meanwhile, the Regional Joint Security Command Center (RJSCC) reported that barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in Western Visayas are 99.40 percent as of Tuesday afternoon. Of the 4,050 barangays in the region, 3,980 have already proclaimed the winners.
RJSCC is composed of the Comelec, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police.