Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa denies involvement in illegal drugs distribution but admits his son’s role in the dirty business saying he can no longer control his son’s behavior. But locals say the Espinosa family has been involved in narco trade in Leyte and nearby provinces for years and that they employ armed groups to protect them and silence their critics

MINDANAO, Philippines – The recent surrender of suspected ‘narco mayor’ Rolando Espinosa to police in Manila points to the nexus between drug traders and government and law enforcement authorities.

Rolando Espinosa

Espinosa is one of the 32 elected governors or mayors who have suspected links with drug dealers and are said to be protecting them. President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to name some of them anytime this month.

The Philippine media is blaming voters for electing ‘narco-politicians’ to power. Espinosa was reported to have spent $1.4 million to win the mayoral poll in Albuera town with just 24,000 registered voters.

Albuera police chief inspector Jovie Espenid says drugs is family business for Espinosas who employ armed groups to protect them and silence their critics.

Six of Espinosa’s bodyguards hired from the restive Mindanao were killed in a shootout on Wednesday by police commandos who were patrolling near the mayor’s house. The bodyguards first opened fire and the police fired back.

The mayor’s son Kerwin Espinosa, who leads a narcotics trafficking ring in Eastern Visayas, reportedly fled the country to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on June 21 upon learning that Duterte has threatened the lives of drug lords in the country.

Malaysia is a hideout for Filipino fugitives many of whom have relatives or close associates living there.

Kerwin’s father, during interrogation, told police that one Peter Ko is a supplier of drugs in his area. Ko tops the list of drug dealers with police authorities.

Locals told media that although the Espinosa family has been linked to illegal drugs distribution in Leyte and nearby provinces for years, people still voted for him out of fear.

A local radio station reported that the Espinosa clan allegedly harassed and harmed political opponents who challenged them.

After surrendering to authorities, Espinosa, who owns three mansions and a hotel, gave Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa the go signal to shoot his fugitive son if he resisted arrest. But he kept denying any role in drug-related activity.

However, he admitted his son was involved in illegal drugs trade and that he can no longer control his son’s behavior.

Kerwin is reported to be making $6.5 million every month through the illegal drugs distribution.

Duterte had announced cash reward to anyone who can kill drug users and traders in their neighborhood. Many concerned residents, including former drug users, have become police assets and are directly reporting to them on who all are supplying illegal drugs to them.

Duterte also vowed to eradicate crimes in the Philippines within six months. At least 600 suspected drug users and traders have been killed for reportedly resisting arrest. Some legislators have questioned these extrajudicial killings.

Espinosa and his son came under police radar after two of their bodyguards and three of the mayor’s office staff were arrested with drugs worth $43,300 during a bust operation.

Senator Panfilo Lacson says at least 60,000 drug users have voluntarily surrendered to police authorities so far. Zamboanga Peninsula region tops the list with as many as 25,000 suspected users submitting themselves for profiling.

Earlier, Mayor Johaira Abinal of Lanao Sur was arrested along with her husband, Army Major Suharto Macabuat in Cagayan de Oro City. Twenty-one packs of illegal drugs and a .45 caliber pistol were seized from their home.

Noel Tarrazona is a former Vancouver-based international journalist and is presently in the Philippines. He can be reached at

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Noel Tarrazona

Noel Tarrazona is a freelance international journalist and a graduate school lecturer.

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