SENATOR Richard Gordon on Sunday warned that the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa by a police raiding team inside his prison cell in the Baybay City sub-provincial jail could scare off other witnesses in the government’s war on illegal drugs.
“We were robbed of justice. Who’ll testify if he will just get killed? The people will be the losers,” said Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.
Gordon earlier filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the recent series of deaths of drug suspects during police operations, under police custody and detention, and outside legitimate police duty.
He said his proposed measure intends to make members of the Philippine National Police more accountable and responsible in fulfilling their constitutional duty to serve and protect the people.
After hearing the testimonies of the police officials involved in the operation, Gordon said he was convinced that Espinosa’s death was a case of extrajudicial killing.
“The police really have a lot to explain,” Gordon added. “First, the procedures were wrong. Second, it looked like the intention wasn’t to arrest but to kill Espinosa.”
Espinosa surrendered to the PNP last August after his name was included in a list of government officials allegedly involved in illegal drugs.
At the time, he claimed to know some 30 lawmakers and police commanders involved in illegal drugs. He subsequently left police custody and returned to work, but was arrested on Oct. 5 over illegal drugs and weapons charges.
The Justice department said the National Bureau of Investigation would conduct a fair investigation of Espinosa’s killing.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the NBI would pursue all angles in the probe, including the possible murder angle, despite pronouncements by President Rodrigo Duterte siding with the team from PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group involved in the incident.
“That is the personal feeling of the President. But as head of the DoJ, which has the NBI as its attached agency, I think it’s just appropriate for me to order the parallel investigation,” Aguirre said.
He said NBI director Dante Gierran is personally heading the investigation that started last week.
The Justice secretary also welcomed the move of the Supreme Court to look into the circumstances of the issuance of the search warrant by a Basey, Samar court against the mayor who was already in jail.
“There are two schools of thought. One is that Mayor Espinosa was already in a controlled environment so there was no need for such search warrant anymore. The other one is that the issuance of the warrant in such a case could still be justified—especially in cases wherein some jail authorities are in cahoots with inmates and since the searchers and the jailers are not from the same unit,” he said.
“But I don’t want to speculate, so it’s better to wait for the results of these investigations,” he added.
In its order issued last Friday, the Supreme Court tapped its Office of the Court Administrator to determine the necessity of issuing a search warrant directed against persons already in custody in a government detention facility.
Before he died, Espinosa had executed an affidavit naming the government officials who allegedly protected their drug trade and benefitted from it.
Aguirre had earlier said he was considering the mayor as a state witness.
Espinosa reportedly implicated Senator Leila de Lima and several congressmen and police officials as among those who received drug money for protecting his son Kerwin’s drug operations.
Because of this, Aguirre said De Lima should inhibit herself from the Senate inquiry on Espinosa’s killing.
Another inmate identified as Raul Yap was also killed in the supposed shootout.
Chief Insp. Leo Laraga, leader of the CIDG team, said they were forced to fire back after Espinosa and Yap fired at them from their separate cells.