MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday promised frontliners of his drug war, including those facing charges for killing Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., that they will be kept out of jail if they face charges for carrying out his campaign.
Speaking at the 120th founding anniversary of the Presidential Security Group, Duterte reiterated his vow that no police officer will be put behind bars for pursuing his anti-narcotics drive.
"I will not allow, even at the risk of losing the presidency, any policeman or soldier to go to prison for destroying the drug industry," Duterte said.
"For those who are facing charges, they can be very sure they can walk out free men," he added.
Duterte issued the statement just as the Department of Justice (DOJ) drew flak from several senators for downgrading murder charges against police officers behind the killing of Espinosa.
Duterte has been voicing support for the accused officers, led by Supt. Marvin Marcos, head of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 at the time of the mayor’s killing.
“Ngayon, there’s a case against the police allegedly for murdering him. And may I now tell you, the police and the military men here that I will never, never ever allow a policeman or a military man going to prison for doing his duty,” he said in a separate event in Pampanga where the Chinese government turned over P370 million worth of arms to the Philippines.
Duterte earlier dismissed the results of a Senate investigation that found Espinosa’s death “premeditated.”
While detained at the Leyte sub-provincial jail, Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap were killed in a pre-dawn operation on Nov. 5 last year when they allegedly resisted CIDG operatives serving them search warrants for alleged possession of drugs and a firearm.
Minority senators on Tuesday filed a resolution seeking an inquiry on the DOJ’s decision to downgrade murder charges against the officers.
Senate Resolution No. 417 filed by Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, Bam Aquino, and Antonio Trillanes IV sought the investigation as it expressed "grave concern" over the downgrade of charges from murder to homicide, allowing the accused to post bail.
The senators said there was no new evidence or compelling reason for the DOJ to reverse its previous finding of probable cause to charge the involved cops with murder, which meant the slay was premeditated.
The senators added that the downgrading of charges also fueled fears of police impunity.
The DOJ initially charged the cops with murder. Upon review, a DOJ panel downgraded the murder charges against 19 police officers to the bailable offense of homicide, citing the absence of evident premeditation.
DON'T HESITATE TO KILL
The President also told government troops battling Islamist militants in Marawi City not to “hesitate” to kill in the besieged city even if there are civilians who could die.
Duterte gave this order to his troops as he expressed hope to end the siege in the Mindanao city which has been dragging on for over a month now.
"We will face charges, minsan massacre. Alam mo ‘yang bala, lusot nang lusot ‘yan eh. Isang putok ng --- isang squeeze ng Armalite, the burst is about three, four. You keep on pressing it, it can kill everybody behind," he said in his speech during the 120th founding anniversary celebration of the Presidential Security Group.
"’Yung mga disgrasya na ‘yan, hindi na sinasadya. Do not hesitate to kill just because there are civilians there. It is the duty of the civilians to flee or seek cover."
At least 44 civilians have died since the clashes erupted in the city on May 23, when Islamist militants led by the Maute ad Abu Sayyaf groups captured parts of the city in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The military said the number of civilian fatalities may increase significantly as government troops have yet to reach other parts of the city.
In an ambush interview in Pampanga, Duterte expressed hope that the crisis will be over before he delivers his second State of the Nation Address.
“I hope so. If it will end tomorrow, then I’d be the happiest man in this nation,” he said.
Duterte has vowed to revive the glory of Marawi, an economic and cultural hub in Muslim Mindanao, saying it pains him to see the once vibrant city in ruins and his troops killed.
The President placed the entire Mindanao under martial law on May 23, the same day the clashes erupted.
He said he might ask Congress to extend the martial law declaration if the crisis drags on after 60 days, the limit provided under the Constitution.
He said only the military can tell him whether martial rule is no longer needed.
"Kung magsabi sila huwag muna, hanggang kailan, I really do not know. Ibig sabihin, it is not my option, I will listen to them. Then I will ask for their recommendation. They should know better than me,” he said.
"’Pag sinabi nila, 'huwag muna', eh ‘di wala tayong magawa. Now, for the 60 days, eh ‘di magpunta ako sa Congress, another 60 days. Give me another 60 days but maybe I’d be able to eliminate all of them.”
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to the ISIS has been considered as the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.
While the military has expressed confidence that the crisis will be over soon, security experts worry that the Marawi attack was just part of a bigger plan of ISIS in Southeast Asia.