Pangasinan lawmaker Espino denies link to Bilibid drug syndicate

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan — Former Pangasinan governor Amado Espino Jr., who currently represents Pangasinan’s fifth district in Congress, denied his and former provincial administrator Rafael Baraan’s alleged link to a New Bilibid Prison drug syndicate, after their names appeared in a matrix made public by President Rodrigo Duterte early Thursday.

“I am completely taken aback by this most recent pronouncement coming from no less than the President himself, that among others, Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan and I are allegedly included in the New Bilibid Drug Matrix, which shows a connection from Muntinlupa down to (former) DOJ Sec. Leila de Lima and other officials, but for what purpose we don’t even know,” Espino said in a statement released to the media Thursday afternoon.

Rafael Baraan is the elder brother of former justice undersecretary Francisco “Toti” Baraan III, who is also included in the drug matrix.

Also in the matrix was another Pangasinense, Raul Sison, a provincial board member and a native of Urbiztondo town.

In his statement, Representative Espino, who reigned as Pangasinan governor for three consecutive terms, noted that the apparent purpose of the matrix was to make it appear that there is a regular flow of drug money from Muntinlupa, down the line.

“First, I have never been associated with Sec. de Lima in a friendly manner, especially since she was mainly instrumental in pursuing the investigation of a fabricated murder case against me at the height of the elections in 2012-2013,” Espino said.

“Second, it is public knowledge that I am staunchly against illegal drugs, and even worked hard to secure the passage of RA 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, as one of the main authors.”

He noted that in his nine-year term as governor, Pangasinan was relentless in its anti-illegal drug campaign, until the present.

“It was during my term when a sizeable portion of the total provincial budget was earmarked yearly for the anti-illegal drugs program, and the Provincial Anti-Drugs Council and, consequently, the Municipal and Barangay Anti-Drugs Councils were re-organized and re-activated,” he added.

Espino said it appears that the announcement “was made without the benefit of a credible validation, to establish the truth”.

“Our only request now, is for this alleged matrix to be subjected to a thorough and objective investigation, and for us to be given the chance to present our side and clear our names,” Espino said. PNA/