TWENTY-ONE policemen are being investigated for the Nov. 5 killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was shot dead in his cell at the Baybay City, Leyte provincial jail in what the police described as a shootout.
Philippine National Police Director for Administration Francisco Uyami said 13 members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and eight members of the regular police force who took part in the dawn raid at the provincial jail were restricted to their offices pending the results of an investigation by a CIDG team based in Camp Crame.
The police said they were at the jail at 4 a.m. to serve a search warrant on Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, when they opened fire on the raiding team, which shot back and killed both prisoners.
Amid allegations of a rubout, Espinosa’s lawyer, Leilani Trinidad Villarino, said she feared for her life and asked the anti-crime watchdog group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption for help to get police protection.
“I feel that I am also in danger,” Villarino said in her letter, which referred to the murder last August of Rogelio Bato Jr., who at one time was lawyeer to Espinosa and his son Kerwin, who police describe as one of the biggest drug lords in Eastern Visayas.
Bato and a 19-year-old student Angelica Bonia, were gunned down Aug. 24 by gunment in Tacloban City while they were in the lawyer’s pickup truck in Tacloban City.
Villarino said that in view of the gravity of the elder Espinosa’s revelations in his sworn affidavits, her own life was in danger.
“Due to the gravity and seriousness of the allegations of my client in his sworn statements implicating top politicians, police officials and other notable individuals, I fear that I will suffer the same fate with attorney Bato,” she said.
Villarino also asked for police protection for the children of the late mayor, particularly during his wake at his house in Albuera town.
Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno on Monday questioned the PNP’s actions in the raid that killed Espinosa.
“Was there really a shootout? Was there coordination with the regional and provincial police offices? Why was the search warrant hastily served too early on a Saturday morning?”
Sueno also directed the National Police Commission to conduct a parallel investigation.
“While the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service has automatically started its own investigation, it is still necessary for Napolcom to get into the picture to lend integrity and credibility to the probe,” Sueno said in a statement.
“Napolcom should make this [probe] their top priority. We have to know what really transpired on that day. We owe the family of the slain inmates and the public a factual and detailed account of the incident,” Sueno said.
A former police general who is now a lawmaker said the death of Espinosa had all the signs of an extrajudicial killing.
“I had been an investigator for so long, and it’s our practice not to jump to conclusions unless we are able to read official investigation report,” said Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop.
“Be that as it may, from the report that I have heard and read, all signs of a summary killing are there, unless all the issues or questionable actions on the part of the operating officers would be answered by them appropriately,” Acop added.
First, Acop said the need to serve the search warrant against Espinosa was questionable.
Acop said Espinosa was already in detention in a government facility over charges of illegal possession of drugs and unlicensed firearms, so the warrant was no longer be necessary.
Second, Acop said the search warrant was served in the wee hours of the morning.
Third, Acop took note that nobody cross-examined witnesses to corroborate the allegations that Espinosa and Yap had firearms in their cells.
The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) condemned the killing of Espinosa, saying it could harm the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
In a statement Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said there were strong indications that the killing of Espinosa and another inmate in the Leyte Sub Provincial Jail was a “cold-blooded murder.”
“The circumstances of Espinosa’s death are highly questionable; from the service of the so-called arrest and search warrants at 4 a.m., Espinosa’s alleged shootout with police, the presence of guns inside the jail cell, the alleged stand-off between the CIDG and jail officials and the missing CCTV footage of the incident,” Reyes said.
Bayan said that while the involvement of the PNP seems to give the killing a cloak of legitimacy, as events are turning out, it merely highlights a most disturbing development of men in uniform involved in a premeditated rubout.
Reyes said a thorough and impartial probe must be conducted because there were reports that the government attempted to silence Espinosa after the mayor revealed the names of 225 individuals, including politicians and police officials involved in the drug trade.
“Espinosa’s death weakens his testimony and favors those implicated in the list. This is one likely reason why he was killed as well as to serve as a warning to his son Kerwin who is tagged as the real drug lord,” Reyes said.
“The killing of Espinosa sets back the Duterte government’s war on drugs, which up to now appears to be eliminating only the small fry,” he said.
The militant labor group also urged the PNP to relieve all officers and members of the CIDG Region 8 pending investigation. With Maricel V. Cruz and Vito Barcelo
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