Eastern Visayas drug trade thrives as ex-Espinosa members regroup – police

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(File photo) Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. (L) voluntarily surrendered to Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa (R). Espinosa was in President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of government officials identified as protectors of illegal drugs.

Tacloban City (CNN Philippines, August 1) — Former members of dissolved drug syndicate Espinosa group are reviving the illegal drug trade in Eastern Visayas, the regional police chief said on Monday.

Region 8 Director Police Chief Superintendent Elmer Beltejar said the illegal drug trade in Eastern Visayas, particularly in Leyte towns Albuera and Kananga, is gaining traction.

"Medyo lumalakas na naman diyan sa Albuera tsaka sa Kananga area. That's why we are focusing on that," he said.

Beltejar said the new drug personalities, which he refused to name, are not as high-value as the father-and-son tandem of slain Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. and Kerwin Espinosa.

"Nanggaling din sa grupo nila (Espinosa), pero walang kasing high-value nung mga Espinosa. Kung papabayaan nating itong sumusulpot na leaders, lalaki yun. But we were able to identify yung mga pumapalit," he said.

[Translation: They came from the Espinosa group, but not as high-value as the Espinosas. If we ignore the new leaders emerging, it has a chance to grow. But we have identified those who replaced them.]

Police operations, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, is ongoing against alleged members of the drug trade, resulting in deaths and arrests, Beltejar said.

The police remains on alert at entry and exit points of the region, including coastal areas that could be used by illegal drug traders as entry points of illegal drugs from Cebu and Metro Manila. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said they will set up a Seaport Interdiction Unit (SIU) in all of its regional offices nationwide to curb illegal drug trafficking through ports.

Bureau of Immigration and Deportation Commissioner Jaime Morante on July 11 issued a lookout bulletin against eight people who are allegedly linked to the drug trade. Among the names on the list are Kerwin Espinosa and five other personalities from Albuera town; Marcelo Adorco, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, and Jun Pepito, a village official in Brgy Binulho, Albuera.

Former Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was included in President Rodrigo Duterte's list of local government officials identified as protectors of illegal drug activities in their areas. He was killed by police operatives in his jail cell on November 5, 2016.

Alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin has also admitted before a Senate probe of his involvement in the drug trade in the region.

Meanwhile, an administrative aide was arrested during a buy-bust operation in Tacloban City on July 26 for peddling shabu.

The police is preparing case build-ups against alleged narco-politicians directly involved or proven to be protecting the illegal drug trade.

Tacloban-based stringer Wil Mark Amazona contributed to this report.