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‘Espinosa case: Overkill’

Lawyer claims mayor shot while he’s down

AN autopsy of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was killed in his jail cell at dawn Saturday in what police reported was a shootout, showed that the bullets hit him with a downward trajectory, indicating he might have been already on the ground when he was shot, his lawyer said Sunday.

“Of course, it’s overkill,” said Espinosa’s lawyer, Lanie Villarino, who said she observed the autopsy conducted by Benjamin Lara, the medico-legal officer of the Philippine National Police Regional Crime Laboratory. 

“There’s a possibility that he had fallen to the ground and was still shot,” she said in Filipino. “His liver was shattered. There were no gastric juices left to use as a sample for drug testing. There was nothing in his stomach, which was also shattered.”

Mayor Rolando Espinosa
Villarino’s claims could not be immediately corroborated because Lara declined media interviews.

Leyte provincial administrator Edgardo Cordeño, meanwhile, said local officials were puzzled why the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group raided the jail without informing them first.

The team entered the jail shortly after 4 a.m., or seven hours before the provincial government received a copy of their search warrant, he said.

The closed circuit television’s digital video recorder also went missing after the alleged shootout, he said.

The CIDG said they were in the Baybay City provincial jail to serve a search warrant on Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, at  4:10 a.m., but the two prisoners opened fire on them, causing them to return fire. Both Espinosa and Yap were killed in the shootout, and pistols and some sachets of “shabu” and marijuana were found in their cells, the police said.

The CIDG said the search warrants were issued by Judge Tarcelo A. Sabarre Jr., presiding judge of Regional Trial Court branch 30 in Basey, Samar, because they believed the two detainees kept firearms and illegal drugs in their cells.

But Cordeño said the capitol, which supervises the jail, conducted an inspection last week and found no illegal drugs or firearms.

“We had an inspection at the jail a week ago and did not discover any illegal contraband inside,” Cordeño told reporters.

The sub provincial jail has eight cells with a capacity to house 15 inmates each. The jail has only 44 prisoners at present. 

Espinosa occupied cell number 1 alone while Yap, with other inmates, stayed in a separate cell.

The mayor has been detained at the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City after his arrest on Oct. 5 for illegal drugs and firearms charges. The mayor is the father of Kerwin Espinosa, allegedly the region’s top drug lord, who was arrested earlier in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 

In Calbayog City in Samar province, a discharged policeman who was supposedly part of the Espinosa drug group was killed in a raid.

Samar Provincial Police Office-Provincial Intelligence Branch Chief Angelo C. Pueblos identified the policeman as Renato Caray Mekitpekit, who was supposedly part of the security detail of suspected drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.

Mekitpekit was killed in his house during a shootout with the police.

Police reported they found a .45-cal. pistol with one magazine, four fired bullets, and one 9-millimeter pistol, 13 plastic sachets and three large sachets of shabu among his belongings.

Mekitpekit, an alleged bagman of top officials of the Ormoc City Police Office during his tour there, was reported to have gone AWOL in 2015 after he was charged at the People’s Law Enforcement Board following an altercation with a garbage truck driver. 

He was discharged after his failure to attend the hearing. 

The Palace said Sunday that it was puzzled by Espinosa’s killing.

“Personally, I’m puzzled because I know that Mayor Espinosa was a big help to the government in exploring and finding those involved in illegal drugs,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said during an interview over state-run radio dzRB.

“Mayor Espinosa was an asset to the government’s investigation into those involved in the sale of illegal drugs, especially in the upper echelons of the drug ring,” said Andanar.

“I’m puzzled and, at the same time, I am also sad that this happened because Mayor Espinosa would have greatly helped the  investigation of our government to be able to pin down who are involved in illegal drugs, especially [those in] government,” Andanar said.

Andanar said President Rodrigo Duterte has been briefed.

The PNP Internal Affairs Service has vowed to conduct an “independent and impartial investigation” into the killing.

Opposition lawmakers said Sunday the police have turned into “brutal monsters” following Espinosa’s death.

“Police officers have turned into monsters on account of death fomented by the administration,” said House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza, in response to the killing of Espinosa “under highly suspicious circumstances.”

“The restoration of capital punishment will exacerbate the rising culture of death and violence which has engulfed the character of the police so much so that the right to life is wantonly violated with impunity,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman added.

Lagman warned that when a person who is in prison pending his prosecution for a crime where no bail is possible, is summarily executed in his own cell, then the proposed return of the death penalty is a useless formality.

Atienza, also Buhay party-list representative, said he was counting on the United Nations Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur to investigate the killing of the mayor, along with the Oct. 9 murder of Mindoro Oriental anticrime crusader Zenaida Luz by two junior police officers.

“Enough is enough already. Camp Crame has to put an end to these summary executions,” Atienza said.

Lagman said President Duterte must create an independent commission of retired jurists to investigate and recommend the prosecution of those found to be culpable for the unabated extrajudicial killings.

“The task should not be discharged by a legislative committee where the impartiality and independence of its members are compromised or imperiled by political accommodation and differing partisan agenda,” Lagman said.

Atienza warned PNP chief Rolando dela Rosa that “officers prone to kill in the name of supposedly good intentions are extremely dangerous, and have absolutely no place in an organization and in a society that professes to uphold the rule of law and basic human rights.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson, one-time PNP chief, called the episode “a clear case of extrajudicial killing.”

The Senate committee on justice chaired by Senator Richard Gordon has moved to revive its recently concluded investigation into extrajudicial killings to specifically look into the incident.

Espinosa was killed not long after former President Fidel Ramos, one-time chief of the now defunct Philippine Constabulary, assailed the administration’s penchant to slaughter suspects, amid mounting accusations of summary executions of mostly poor people supposedly involved in pushing illegal drugs.

Speaking recently on ANC’s Beyond Politics, Ramos said: “It is not always shoot to kill which is the mission of the law enforcer, it is shoot to disable. How do you get an investigation carried out properly if the suspect is dead? But if [he is] only wounded or disabled, then he can tell [you information].”

If the police can live up to this “basic rule,” Ramos said, President Duterte may even be able to dodge “a lot of suspicions about extrajudicial killings and violations of human rights.”

Topics: Mayor Rolando Espinosa , Atty. Lanie Villarino , Autopsy , Overkill , CIDG , Edgardo Cordeño , Baybay City provincial jail , Raul Yap
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