Senate probers say Espinosa killing 'premeditated'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2017 02:30 PM

Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. surrendered to authorities in August, meeting a deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte. Espinosa was later killed inside his cell in Leyte Sub-Provincial Jail. File photo

MANILA - The Senate committees which investigated the death of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. found that the slay was "premeditated and with abuse of authority" on the part of the police operatives.

Senator Panfilo Lacson's committee on public order and dangerous drugs and Senator Richard Gordon's committee on justice and human rights concluded after several public hearings that operatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8 planned Espinosa's killing in November last year to cover up their involvement in illegal drugs.

"Although the Committees recognize and give due respect to the authority of the courts to determine the guilt of the police officers involved in the operation, the Committees are convinced that the circumstances point out to a systematic 'clean up' made on any living trace that may reveal their involvement in the Espinosa drug trade," they said in a joint report published on the Senate website.

The panels cited the testimony of Espinosa's son, self-confessed drug distributor Kerwin, where he claimed that the police officials who served the search warrant at his father's cell at the Leyte Sub-Provincial Jail received payoffs from him.

Among those he named were CIDG-8 chief Supt. Marvin Marcos, Chief Inspector Leo Laraga, and Supt. Santi Noel Matira. 

DUTERTE IS MICRO-MANAGING

The Senate committees also recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte should not micromanage the affairs of the government, especially the police force headed by Director General Rolando Dela Rosa. 

"The Committees are of the opinion that the President should not be micro-managing the affairs of the government and should place his trust in the sound discretion of all his appointees, including PNP Chief Dela Rosa," the report said.

The committees noted the decision of President Duterte to recall the order of Dela Rosa relieving PSupt. Marcos and his men from the CIDG-8

"In so far as the organizational and operational aspect of the PNP is concerned, the Chief should be given full authority and control of how the PNP will manage the day-to-day affairs of the organization subject to limitations set by law. He should be given a free hand to decide on how to run the PNP and his decisions should be recognized and respected and should be countermanded or reversed only by the Chief Executive in case of a clear showing of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Chief, PNP," the report said.

QUESTIONABLE IMPLEMENTATION OF SEARCH WARRANT

The Senate committees also questioned the intention of the police operatives for applying and implementing the search warrant inside the jail facility in the wee hours, calling the place of application "suspicious."

They said Laraga should not have wasted government resources in applying for a search warrant in Basey, Samar since they were going to search a detention facility, "which is not a private dwelling that comes under the protection of the right to privacy."

Senators also noted of the use "overwhelming force" by the authorities serving the warrants " just for the purpose of searching for one firearm and a certain amount of illegal drugs in a government detention facility."

They noted that the 18-person team of CIDG-8 personnel was augmented by six members of the Regional Maritime Unit as perimeter defense.

"Perhaps, the Committees may have accepted PSupt. Marcos' explanation that said amount of force is necessary because of the number of firearms reportedly carried by Espinosa's men that are still at large," the report said.

"However, the explanation does not justify the fact that higher authorities such as the Regional Director, PCSupt. Beltejar and PDir. Obusan were not informed of said operation," it added.

The probers also said it was "peculiar" that no one else apart from the operating team witnessed what transpired inside Espinosa's and slain inmate Raul Yap's cell, noting that only one witness saw the operatives enter the compound while others were present only during the inventory of seized items. 

"What is more appalling was the fact that the jail guards as well as the PNP personnel, assigned to ensure the safety of Mayor Espinosa, were disarmed and made to kneel down and face the wall for the entire duration of the operation even after Mayor Espinosa and Yap were killed," the report added.

The committees are also convinced that both Espinosa and Yap, allegedly killed after resisting arrest and firing at officers, "had no firearms and illegal drugs in their possession. "

They cited that jail guards conducted "Oplan Galugad" a few days before the raid but "merely found cell phones and chargers and none of the alleged articles mentioned in the application for search warrants."

They added, the inmates also testified that the "galugad" or search was thorough, and that none of them had ever seen Mayor Espinosa and Yap with any prohibited items.

"But what is most convincing are the accounts of the inmates who heard Mayor Espinosa pleading with the CIDG-8 operatives not to plant evidence inside his cell," the report said.

URGES DOJ FOR FASTER ACTION

Meanwhile, the Senate committees also reminded the Department of Justice of the seemingly slow pace of the case which is undergoing preliminary investigation. 

"Two months had passed and no resolution yet is forthcoming on the preliminary investigation being conducted by the Department. Considering the time, not to mention the overwhelming testimonial and documentary evidence presented before the five-man panel conducting the preliminary investigation, they should have already resolved this matter with urgency," the report said.

The senators also requested the Judiciary to expedite the determination as to the propriety and liabilities of the following judges:

1. Judge Carlos Arguelles, for his failure to act upon the motion of Mayor Espinos to be transferred to a safer prison facility;

2. Judge Tarcelo Sabarre, Jr. for issuing search warrants upon persons detained a government detention facility located outside his jurisdiction; 

3. Judge Janet Cabalona, also for issuing search warrants upon persons detained in a government detention facility located outside her jurisdiction.

As to future legislation, the Committee report recommended that the Revised Penal Code be amended to increase the penalty for false testimony or perjury, after witness Paul gave a false deposition or testimony which led to the issuance of warrants.

As a final note, the senators also said they have observed "the fast-growing number of scalawags over the years" in the police force. 

"These individuals are responsible for the public's mistrust on the PNP which demoralizes other personnel who are upholding their noble mandate of serving and protecting the people. Apart from strengthening the Internal Affairs Service, there is a need to review and assess the very foundation of police training," the report said.

- with Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News