MANILA - A police official on Monday expressed doubt that detained mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte had hidden weapons in his jail cell before a search operation which led to the alleged firefight that killed him and another detainee.
Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap were shot dead early Saturday after they allegedly fired shots at operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) serving search warrants at the Baybay Provincial Jail. The CIDG said they recovered a pistol each from from the cells of Yap and Espinosa, as well as a small packet of shabu and drug paraphernalia from the mayor's cell.
Albuera police chief Inspector Jovie Espenido, however, is unconvinced that Espinosa had smuggled contraband items in his jail cell just weeks after he executed an affidavit naming public officials who allegedly received grease money from him and his alleged drug lord son, Kerwin Espinosa.
"Halatang-halata naman sa publiko na siya ay narco-politician tapos siya ay bumaligtad, nasa atin na sa government, nag-file na, nag-execute na ng affidavit," Espenido said in an interview over radio DZMM.
"Tapos si Mayor, bagong hatid lang natin sa provincial jail ng Baybay. Alam naman namin na hindi capable si Mayor na maghawak ng baril doon sa loob. Masabi natin na hindi makagawa ng organization doon sa loob dahil nag-iisa lang siya sa selda tapos hindi maraming nakakulong doon sa provincial jail."
(It is very obvious to the public that he is a narco-politician and that he has turned over to the government's side. He has already filed, executed an affidavit. And we have just transferred Mayor to the Baybay provincial jail. We know that he was not capable of possessing a gun inside. We can also say that he could not have formed an organization inside because he was alone in his cell and there are only a few detainees in the provincial jail.)
'ESPINOSA SLAY NOT A SURPRISE'
But the official also admitted that Espinosa's killing did not come as a surprise because the individuals tagged as drug coddlers in his affidavit were powerful and high-ranking, and even included some prison officials.
"Inaasahan ko na 'yan (pagkamatay ni Espinosa). Nabigla din ako pero ganoon ang nangyari ba... Alam naman natin na ang kulungan, ang nagpapatakbo nun, nasa lista. Halatang halata, iyung nasa taas... Ang mismong nasa city, naka-lista din diyan," Espenido argued.
(I was already expecting it. I was shocked to but that's what happened. We know that the prison is run by some people who are on Espinosa's list. It's very obvious that it includes officials in the top ranks. Even a city official is listed there.)
Espenido confirmed that included in the mayor's list of allegedly drug-tainted officials were:
- Former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima;
- former CIDG-Region8 Director, Superintendent Joey Masunding;
- retired Ormoc City Jail warden Joseph Nuñez;
- Victor Espina Jr., the brother of retired Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director General Leonardo Espin; and
- Jonnah John Ungab, the incumbent vice mayor of Ronda town in Cebu.
Espenido admitted that Espinosa's death dealt a heavy blow on the anti-drug complaints that the Albuera police lodged against more than 80 individuals tagged in the affidavit of the mayor.
"Alam naman natin dito sa Pilipinas na kung patay ang complainant or witnesses, wala [na ang kaso]. Buhay nga, nadi-dismiss pa, lalo na kung patay na," he lamented.
(We know that here in the Philippines, the case is often dropped if the complainant or the witnesses die. Cases are sometimes dismissed even if they alive, what more if they are already dead.)
Espenido is also uncertain if Espinosa's son, who was arrested in Abu Dhabi last October, could bolster the case.
"Makasiguro ako na si Mayor talaga ang tumulong sa gobyerno para malaman talaga kung sino iyung mga protector nila kasi nagbigay na siya ng salaysay. Kay Kerwin, hindi ako makasiguro kasi hindi natin alam kung sino ang maghawak," he said.
"Sabi nga rin ng mga kasamahan ko sa serbisyo, pwedeng isangkot tayo para iyung credibility ng leader ng nag-iimbestiga sa kanya, masira. Ang dami talaga ng mga expectation ko, baka naman din patayin."
Espenido also admitted to fearing for his life after the mayor's slay, but insisted that he will stand firm in pursuing those involved in the alleged Espinosa drug ring.
"If God is with us, who can be against us? Sa akin naman, sino ang magstand in behalf of the government at mga tao mismo kung takot [tayo]? Basta i-file ko, may witness tayo, kung sino ang may gawa, mananagot siya," he said.
(Who else will stand behalf of the government and the public if we also succumb to fear? I will continue filing the case, we have witnesses. Those responsible will be punished.)
It is still unclear whether the younger Espinosa who is currently in jail in Abu Dhabi, has been informed about his father's death.
PNP chief Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa has ordered an investigation into Espinosa's death, promising that there would be no cover-up in the process.
A hard drive containing video footage of what may have transpired during the shooting incident which led to the death of Espinosa is missing, Leyte provincial administrator Edgardo Cordeño said.