FORMER governor and incumbent Rep. Amado Espino Jr. of Pangasinan on Thursday denied his alleged links to the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.
Espino also told a radio interview that he was surprised by the disclosure of President Rodrigo Duterte that named him, provincial administrator Raffy Baraan and Gen. Franklin Bucayo as being in a drug matrix that he shared at a press conference in Davao City.
Espino also said he was innocent and that the accusation of the President was false.
Espino said the first and last time he went to the national prison was 13 years ago when he visited convicted rapist, former Zamboanga Rep. Romeo Jalosjos.
He said it has been a long time also that he saw former Justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima and her supposed lover-driver Ronnie Dayan.
De Lima and Dayan were both included in the “Muntinlupa Connection” drug matrix of President Duterte.
“I saw them in Pangasinan. There was a wedding and they were there, three or four years ago,” Espino said in Filipino. “I was surprised to see De Lima make a gesture of respect (mano) to Dayan’s father.”
Espino said his brother-mayor and relatives who campaigned for President Duterte in the last elections were disappointed with the President for linking him to the drug trade.
He also asked how he could be conniving with De Lima when it was her undersecretary, Francisco Baraan, the brother of Raffy Baraan, who prosecuted them.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the House leadership would give due process to Espino.
Alvarez said the House would not do anything “drastic” against Espino unless he is proven guilty.
“Even if the name of Espino is listed in the drug matrix, that does not mean that Congress will do anything drastic against him,” Alvarez said.
“We have to look into that. We have proper committees to look into the complaint [that may be filed against him on the issue],” Alvarez said.
Former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan called Duterte’s accusation that he tolerated the illegal drug trade in NBP “a total misconception.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Baraan denied the President’s allegations and maintained he had limited authority over the Bureau of Corrections, which directs the prison in Muntinlupa.
Duterte released the matrix after a heated argument with Senator Leila de Lima, whom he said was also in the list, over the spate of drug-related killings across the country.
On Wednesday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said they will present the evidence and witnesses against the senator and Baraan for their alleged links to the drug trade.
De Lima on Thursday labeled Duterte’s drug matrix as “scrap paper that belongs in a garbage can.”
In an official statement provided by her Office to the Senate media, De Lima asked:
“Was it a joke? Like most of his jokes before, this latest one he will surely regret. But yes, please amuse me at how his men have desperately tried to link me with the ‘Muntinlupa Connection’ flick. Where is the so-called drug link or links?”
De Lima said she was no longer surprised that it came from Duterte, who has vowed to destroy her at all cost.
“Like the many tirades thrown at me, these are bound to fail again with all of these trumped-up accusations and worst matrix of all time. Even a 12-year-old can draw such a thing!” De Lima said.
“As I have often said, I will not dignify any further this so-called drug matrix which, any ordinary lawyer knows too well, properly belongs in the garbage can,” she added.
In a news conference, De Lima said when she saw the matrix, she just laughed if off and pitied the President because he cannot prove his allegations, which she described “mere fabrications bereft of proof.”
De Lima stressed she is “absolutely, 100 percent sure” that no genuine evidence would prove her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“They won’t get any genuine evidence because I am absolutely, 100 percent sure of myself and I am absolutely, 100 percent sure of my innocence. I have no connections whatsoever with drugs,” she said.
She said the accusations are “laughable” as they are clearly wrong. She noted that the matrix even showed all arrows pointing to former Pangasinan governor Espino.
“These arrows all point to Governor Espino. Are they making it appear that indirectly, I’m reporting to Espino?” De Lima asked.
She said she was the one who investigated him over a murder case involving a mayor of Pangasinan.
“They’re laughable. If you recall, I ordered the NBI to investigate Governor Espino when I was still DoJ secretary, over a murder complaint based on a testimony of a minor. It was dismissed at the preliminary investigation stage because the witness’ testimony reportedly had many loopholes,” De Lima said.
“Now, they’re saying that I conspired with him? They’re too much. They’re making up stories. This is so laughable,” the senator said.
“I hope the President would take pity on me and stop this. This is already madness, Mr. President,” said De Lima.
She also gave unsolicited advice to the President. She said three-fourths of his press conference is all about her.
“It’s just a waste of time. The President has a lot of other things to do. Same goes with me. I would like to concentrate on my real work,” she said.
De Lima said Thursday’s press conference would be the last time that she would react on the allegations made by Duterte.
Reacting to the assertion of the President that her political career is over, De Lima insisted she has no plan of running for higher office.
Senator Panfilo Lacson agreed that the drug matrix at face value was nothing but a scrap of paper.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said there is already a complaint against De Lima before the Senate ethics committee. “I don’t want to sound prejudiced either way,” he said.
Reacting to Duterte’s drug matrix, former speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said a proper investigation was in order.
Belmonte said that if proven guilty, Espino and other personalities named by President Duterte as having been involved in the drug trade at the NBP must face the music.
Otherwise, they are innocent until proven otherwise, Belmonte added.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said the matrix was a serious allegation that covered a cross-section of government service.
Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting added: “We can only assume and hope that this matrix is based on actionable intelligence.”
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