Duterte not puzzled about mayor’s killing
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he saw nothing puzzling in the circumstances surrounding the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, stopping short of justifying the killing by the police of the local official he had accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“Why should I be puzzled?” the President said when asked about the fatal shooting of Espinosa inside his jail cell, adding that he did not want to pass judgment on the police action at this time.
“You have here a guy—government employee—using his office and money of government, cooking ‘shabu’ and destroying the lives of so many millions of Filipinos. So what is there for me to say about it?” he told reporters before he left for official trips to Thailand and Malaysia.
Internal affairs report
Duterte made the remarks despite a report by the Leyte police provincial Internal Affairs Service (IAS) that contradicted claims made by a team from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas (CIDG-8), which raided the cells of Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, in the Baybay City subprovincial jail on Saturday.
The internal affairs report was based on statements from other inmates. It said Espinosa was unarmed and there was no shootout with the raiding team that came to search for weapons and drugs in the cells of the two men.
The CIDG-8 said the two men fired at the policemen, who fired back, killing them.
Lawmakers have called for an inquiry into the jail killings.
The Philippine National Police IAS and the National Police Commission (Napolcom) have announced separate probes.
The Supreme Court also will conduct its own investigation of the judge’s decision to issue the search warrants used by the raiders.
NBI parallel probe
The Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson will open on Thursday its probe of the killing of Espinosa and Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom, who was also identified as a drug lord. Opposition congressmen have called for an investigation by the House of Representatives.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has ordered a parallel probe by the National Bureau of Investigation to avoid a “whitewash” because the circumstances of Espinosa’s death were “too suspicious,” Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes said on Wednesday.
The President said he would “obey what the police” would tell him about the jail raid “because we are together in government.”
“I will not go there to find fault with the police,” Mr. Duterte said. “I do not even agree that they should be transferred, at least not now, because if you do that, the policemen will not do their work anymore.”
Leyte police account
Since the Leyte provincial internal affairs report contradicted claims by the CIDG-8, Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, police director for Eastern Visayas, ordered the Regional Internal Affairs Service to conduct a separate probe.
The Leyte police report said the CIDG-8 team led by Chief Insp. Leo Laraga arrived at the jail around 3:20 a.m. on Saturday.
As one of the jail guards was about to open the gate, the raiding team barged in and ordered the guards and four provincial policemen tasked to secure Espinosa to kneel facing a wall and disarmed them, the report said.
Members of the raiding team then went to Espinosa in Cell No. 1 and to Yap in Cell No. 7. The five inmates with Yap were ordered to move to another cell, leaving him alone with the policemen. The other inmates later heard gunshots.
Inmates in Cell No. 2 adjacent to Espinosa’s cell were also transferred. They told the investigators that the mayor was unarmed.
The inmates said they saw two armed men presumed to be members of the raiding team enter Espinosa’s cell and talked to the mayor for about two minutes. Then they heard gunshots.
Scene of the crime operatives arrived at 7 a.m. but were only allowed inside the jail three hours later, the report said.
The provincial warden, Homobono Bardillon, told investigators the CIDG men took away the jail’s network video recorder for the 16 channels of their closed-circuit television (CCTV) and two unit switches.
Lacson said he wanted to know why the search warrants were obtained from a court in Basey town in neighboring Northern Samar province and not from Leyte where the jail was located, and whether the judge would have administrative liability for issuing them.
He will also ask whether search warrants for two other inmates, including an alleged associate of Espinosa, had also been issued and whether they came from the same judge.
The two men were killed inside their cells on separate occasions while allegedly trying to fight the police, he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, GIL CABACUNGAN, ROBERT DEJON AND ADOR VINCENT MAYOL