MANILA - Murder charges against 19 policemen linked to the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa were downgraded to a bailable offense because of the absence of evident premeditation, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Tuesday.
"Ang pagkakaalam ko po, nawala yung evident premeditation at ang nakita lang nila may conspiracy to commit the crime," Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said in an interview on radio DZMM.
Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos and 18 other officers were originally accused of murdering two people inside their prison cell -- one of them being a city mayor detained on suspicion of drug-dealing.
The officers posted bail Friday after the charge was amended to the lesser one of homicide, said national police chief Ronald dela Rosa.
The DOJ, in a review resolution on May 29, 2017, dismissed two counts of murder against members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 led by Supt. Marcos, indicting them instead for homicide, a lesser and bailable offense.
"Isa po kasing nagpapabigat yung evident premeditation From homicide, nagiging murder yan pag pesent ang evident premeditation. Pag absent po yan, plain homicide ang mangyayari," Aguirre explained.
He added: "Hindi pa dumarating sa mesa ko yan. Actually hindi pa darating sa akin yan kasi hindi pa nagpe-petition for review. Pag nag-petition for review saka lang dumarating sa amin ang mga kaso. Otherwise, doon yan sa nationwide prosecutors namin."
Amnesty International's local spokesman Wilnor Papa earlier said the downgrading of the charges against the 19 policemen shows that impunity is present.
"Vigilantes and police are getting away with it (killings)... this is a classic example that people in power get away with it," he told Agence France Presse.
President Duterte had earlier accused Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa and his son of being the drug kingpins in the area. The son surrendered after his father was killed.
Authorities said at the time the elder Espinosa's arrest was evidence the drugs problem was prevalent nationwide, justifying the brutal government response.
Marcos and his co-accused said the mayor was killed when he fought back with a gun during a raid on his cell. Other inmates said there was no such firefight. With Agence France Presse