Duterte seeks probe of NPA report warden into drugs

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte walks ahead of jail warden Jose Mervin Coquilla after helping secure the latter’s release from captivity by the New People’s Army. BING GONZALES/INQUIRER MINDANAO

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte walks ahead of jail warden Jose Mervin Coquilla after helping secure the latter’s release from captivity by the New People’s Army. BING GONZALES/INQUIRER MINDANAO

NABUNTURAN, Compostela Valley—Shortly after helping set free a jail warden who had been taken captive by communist guerrillas, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said here he would ask higher jail authorities to investigate guerrilla allegations of the freed warden’s involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the provincial jail of Compostela Valley.

Members of the New People’s Army (NPA) captured jail warden Jose Mervin Coquilla on Dec. 23, accusing him of tolerating and being involved in the illegal drug trade in the provincial jail.

“I have yet to ask the higher authorities to investigate,” Duterte said as he turned Coquilla over to provincial authorities, barely an hour after the NPA set the warden free on Monday.

But the mayor, who had been instrumental in the release of other NPA captives, said Coquilla should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Until then, it would be unfair to make a hasty judgment,” said Duterte. “The guy is entitled to due process,” he said.

Coquilla had already denied the allegations against him, saying these have no basis.

He admitted the proliferation of drugs inside the Compostela Valley jail, where about half of inmates are involved in drugs, but that such is true in other detention facilities.

Coquilla said measures had been taken to address the problem although these might have not been enough.

Rubi del Mundo, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front’s Southern Mindanao unit, said in a statement that Coquilla’s release did not mean he is innocent.

He said the NPA just “suspended the judicial proceedings against Coquilla as a humanitarian act in response to the pleas of his family and representatives from the government and well-meaning individuals, and as a gesture of compassion and mercy, a message that is reverberating in the country with the recent visit of Pope Francis.”

“The release of respondent Coquilla, however, does not preclude the revolutionary forces from subjecting him to future arrest and detention if the masses file new charges against him and if he is found to be unremorseful,” Del Mundo said. Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao