JULY 16, 2016 – In his tone and language, it became apparent to me that Iloilo City mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog is now fully aware that his days of philandering at City Hall are coming to a close. And it’s not because of corruption that Mabilog is likely to fall with a big thud. With the graft cases against him caught in the bureaucratic gridlock in the Ombudsman, Mabilog’s downfall will be caused by his close association (read: protection) with drug lords in Iloilo City.
That’s because any day now, President Digong Duterte is expected to reveal the names of 23 local chief executives that he’s found to be connected to the illegal drugs trade, primarily as protectors. Mabilog, who has never been shy about his close friendship with Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr., is among the names being loudly mentioned in social media as being on the list.
For the last two weeks, Mabilog has embarked on an effort to repair his notoriety as a drug protector in his own city. He paid for two half-page advertisements in two big national newspapers that spoke about his so-called toughness on illegal drugs. Less than two weeks before Pres. Duterte assumed office, Mabilog staged an “Anti-drug summit” purportedly to send a strong signal that he is waging battle against illegal drugs.
But the effort failed to change the perception. In fact, it only fueled more criticism in social media that Mabilog was just trying to do damage control and persuade Pres. Duterte that his name shouldn’t be on that list. And just yesterday, Mabilog had to admit over a local radio program that his name might just indeed be on the list.
Mabilog gave a lame excuse that it’s just a case of black propaganda against him. He claimed that his track record would prove that he gave PDEA and the police logistical support, including weapons acquisition, to strengthen their fight against illegal drugs and criminality in general.
Mabilog asserted that he’s never been hooked into drugs. He’s never, not even once, toughed illegal drugs to get high, he said.
However, Mabilog seems to be aware that his half-hearted defensive posture is not enough to overturn the strong public perception that he was a coddler of drug lords. Nobody has even accused him of being a drug addict, Joe Marie Agriam, one of his staunch critics, pointed out.
Because of this, Mabilog could only articulate his plea for an investigation and due process. “I am sure there will be an investigation,” he said.
That Mabilog is now in the national spotlight because of his connections to illegal drugs could hardly be blamed on anybody else. He brought it upon himself. For several years now, Mabilog has appeared in public occasions — and everything captured on digital media — in the company of Espinosa, Jr. A kagawad in his barangay (Monica), Jing Jing has been identified by PDEA regional director Paul Ledesma as a key lieutenant of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta, Sr., also known as “Dragon”. Odicta is reportedly head of one of two drug syndicates in Iloilo City.
“Can’t decide on how to spend the money”– This seems to be the message on this photo posted by Kap Dabing Espinosa on her FB page and downloaded by fellow netizens and sent over to me.
In the past, Mabilog simply brushed aside criticism that his friendship with Espinosa, and Odicta in the process, was inappropriate behavior for a public official. At one point, he even boasted that he was proud of Espinosa as his bosom friend. Mabilog has stood as godfather to one of Espinosa’s children. He often visits Barangay Monica to attend social events in the place where Jing Jing’s wife, “Dabing”, is the barangay captain.
Now that Pres. Duterte has cracked down on illegal drugs, Mabilog is caught with his pants down, so to speak. He can’t claim that the issue of his friendship with drug lords is false. Too many pictures have captured their closeness.
Each working day is now filled with anticipation. Many Ilonggos are convinced Mabilog’s name will be among the 23 mayors in the list. He is much too prominent in the illegal drugs issue that he can’t possibly wiggle his way out of it. The ghosts of the pasts are now haunting Mabilog.