THE Justice Department on Thursday said it would proceed with its preliminary investigation of criminal complaints filed against policemen involved in the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap, even though President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not let the team led by Supt. Marvin Marcos go to jail.
Earlier this week, the National Bureau of Investigation said it recommended the filing of murder and perjury charges against the raiding team that killed Espinosa and Yap inside the Baybay City sub-provincial jail in Leyte, describing the operation as “a rubout.”
“We will continue with the preliminary investigation. It [the President’s statement] will not affect the proceedings here in the DoJ,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III said in a text message.
Aguirre said he has created a panel of five prosecutors to hold the preliminary investigation on the charges of murder, robbery, malicious procurement of a search warrant, perjury and planting of evidence against Marcos, head of the Region 8 Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and other members of his team.
In a department order, Aguirre designated Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo as head of the panel with Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas, Assistant State Prosecutor Jinky Dedumo, Assistant State Prosecutor Karla Cabel and Prosecuting Attorney Moises Acayan as members.
Despite the NBI findings, the President said last Wednesday that he would not allow Marcos and his team to go to prison and vowed to defend them.
“I will not allow these guys to go to prison, even if the NBI says it was murder. After all, the NBI is under me, the Department of Justice,” Duterte said.
He said in the same speech, however, that he would not obstruct legal proceedings at the DOJ.
Aguirre said Thursday he believed the President made the statement to emphasize his trust in and support for the Philippine National Police in its enforcement of his anti-narcotics campaign.
He also said the President’s pronouncement did not constitute an impeachable offense, contrary to the opinions of critics such as Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Aguirre said Trillanes, who is not a lawyer, “knows nothing.”
But De Lima said it was clear that Duterte, whom she described as “the father of extrajudicial killings,” ordered the Nov. 5 killing of Mayor Espinosa.
“Nothing can be clearer than that,” she said.
She added that his remarks about not letting the policemen go to jail was an admission that he was the mastermind of the summary execution.
“Now we all know that the order and command to murder Espinosa in cold blood came from none other than the President himself,” De Lima added. “People of the Philippines, your President is a murderer.”
De Lima also said Duterte betrayed the public trust—an impeachable offense–when he defended Marcos and his team, because it is his duty to enforce the law.
The slain mayor had earlier surrendered to the authorities after he and his son, Kerwin Espinosa, were named by President Duterte as drug lords in Eastern Visayas.
The police team that conducted the raid insisted that Espinosa shot at them first, prompting them to fire back.
Also charged with perjury and malicious procurement of search warrant was Paul Olendan, the witness used by the police to obtain the search warrants against Espinosa and Yap from Judge Tarcelo Sabarre Jr. of the Regional Trial Court Branch 30 in Basey, Samar.
Aguirre also said the ruling of Baybay, Leyte Regional Trial Court Branch 14 Judge Carlos Arguelles granting the younger Espinosa’s bid to be transferred to the custody of the NBI is a welcome development in the case.
“It will be convenient for him if he will as he said pursue his application to the government’s witness protection program,’ the DoJ chief said.
The younger Espinosa is detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame where he was brought after his return following his arrest in the United Arab Emirates last month.
Charges of possession of illegal drugs and firearms were filed against him by the authorities before a court in Leyte.
The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Thursday said Duterte’s defense of Marcos and the police raiding team encouraged impunity and the blatant violation of the law.
“It is unacceptable as it is dangerous. While the President says he will not interfere in the filing of the case in court, his repeated pronouncements that he believes the police version–despite contrary findings by the NBI–is indeed problematic. Even when faced with evidence of wrongdoing by the police, the President insists on giving them the presumption of regularity,” Bayan said in a statement.
Bayan said the message he is sending appears to be intended not just for the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 operatives but to all policemen involved in the war on drugs, that no policeman who has killed a drug lord, no matter how questionable the circumstances may be, will go to jail under his watch, the group said.
This has been interpreted by the police as a license to kill with impunity, it added.
“This cannot go on. The President must stop making such pronouncements that are taken as policy statements of the Chief Executive,” Bayan said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon urged the President to allow the process to proceed in the case of the policemen accused of murder.
“This means let the [prosecutor] scrutinize the evidence that will be presented by the NBI. If the prosecutor decides, that decision is always appealable to the Justice secretary,” Drilon said.
“If after the trial in court, the police officers are found guilty, and the President is not satisfied with that finding, he can always pardon the accused. That is the process,” Drilon added.
As a former prosecutor, the President knows that when a case is before a prosecutor, he exercises quasi-judicial powers, Drilon said.
Due to this, the prosecutor will decide the case without anyone controlling him.
“If a party is not satisfied with the prosecutor’s decision, he should appeal it with the secretary of Justice,” Drilon said.
Drilon also said he wanted to seek a clarification of what the President really meant when he said he would not allow the policemen involved in the killing to go to jail.
He noted that even Aguirre had expressed the view that Espinosa’s killing was premeditated.
De Lima on Thursday also said the Senate committee on justice report on extrajudicial killings released by Senator Richard Gordon, which she was not allowed to read and sign, needed to be reviewed.
“I think this also puts to a close the Senate investigation on who ordered the killing of Mayor Espinosa,” said De Lima.
De Lima’s assertions were contrary to the findings of Gordon’s committee and the committee on public order and illegal drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson, which virtually cleared Duterte of any involvement in the alleged extrajudicial killings and summary executions in the government’s all-out campaign against war.
“There was no proof that there is state-sponsored policy to commit killings to eradicate illegal drugs in the country,” the report said.
It also ruled that the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group that Duterte was accused of heading, was just “a media creation.”
The report was signed by 11 senators: Gordon, Lacson, and Senators Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Nancy Binay, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Drilon.
Three of the senators signed with reservations.
Pangilinan said he dissented in part and he concurred in part. He will file a separate opinion. He said more hearings are necessary for a definitive finding to be established.
Drilon signed “with reservations” and expressed intention to pose questions when the report is reported out to the plenary.
Cayetano also signed with reservations as he also expressed intention to propose amendments to the report.
Other members of the joint panel who did not sign the report were Senators Leila de Lima, Grace Poe, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Trillanes, and Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto.
Trillanes, another critic of Duterte, said the President’s latest defense of the police raiding team headed by Marcos indicated that he was the mastermind.
Lacson, who had also labeled Espinosa’s killing a rubout, did not go so far as to tag Duterte as the mastermind.
He also warned Trillanes against making hasty judgments.
“Solid evidence must be ready to prove such a suspicion,” Lacson said.
Gordon, in his committee report, also warned the President.
“I told him you will fall on your own sword if you keep covering up for the misdeeds of the police,” Gordon said.
He also said the President needs to be mindful of his role as head of the state and be careful with his words, avoid inappropriate statements lest they be construed as policies of the state. With Sandy Araneta