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Senators seek inquiry into downgrade of raps vs cops

The Senate minority bloc is seeking an investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) decision to downgrade charges against the policemen accused in the killing last year of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., a suspected drug lord who was gunned down in a predawn raid on the Leyte subprovincial jail while allegedly being served an arrest warrant.

Along with Sen. Panfilo Lacson as coauthor, the six-member bloc is drafting a resolution expressing the “grave concern of the Senate” on the move of the DOJ to downgrade from double murder to the bailable offense of homicide the charges against Supt. Marvin Marcos and 18 other policemen.

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The move came a day after Lacson urged the Senate to denounce the DOJ action that went radically against not only findings of the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which he chaired, but also of the National Bureau of Investigation that filed the cases against Marcos and his men in court.

President Duterte, who has waged a bloody war on drugs, has accused Espinosa of involvement in the narcotics trade.

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Senate resolution

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Tuesday that the resolution calling on Lacson’s committee to conduct the hearing would be filed on Wednesday.

Congress is adjourned until July 24, but Drilon said the hearing could be held if Lacson agreed to it.

“It can be justified as part of the committee’s oversight work on the implementation of the committee report adopted by the Senate,” Drilon said in a text message.

In March, the Senate adopted Lacson’s committee report, which recommended murder charges against Marcos and his men following a finding that they killed Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, in cold blood inside a jail in Baybay, Leyte, last year.

In a statement, Drilon said the DOJ move was “an insult to the Senate.” He noted that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II had told the Senate hearing that Espinosa’s killing would qualify as a “premeditated killing.”

“It now begs the question: Why did the DOJ suddenly reverse its earlier decision, which was supported by ample evidence? Why not allow the court to determine if it’s murder or homicide?” Drilon said.

Review of rules

Lacson said he would review the rules and decide if a hearing could be conducted.

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He said he was joining the minority resolution because he was standing by his committee’s recommendation that was unanimously adopted by the Senate.”

“I will do so, not based on politics, friendship or anything related to it but solely on truth and justice,” Lacson said in a text message.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who initiated the drafting of the resolution, said Aguirre would be invited to the hearing.

“We cannot allow Secretary Aguirre to continue to toy around with our justice system. Enough’s enough,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Sen. Leila de Lima, detained on drug charges, said that it seemed the DOJ initially adopted the NBI recommendation “just for show, a charade, so as to please or satisfy the Senate and the public.”

De Lima, an archcritic of Mr. Duterte, said this only bolstered her suspicion that Marcos and his men “were actually carrying out an order to liquidate Mayor Espinosa, and that such order came from the top, the very top.”

DOJ decision

Senators Grace Poe, Richard Gordon and JV Ejercito—all belonging to the majority—denounced the DOJ decision.

Poe said all the facts “provided more than sufficient probable cause to support the attendance of evident premeditation on the part of the suspects to kill Mayor Espinosa, carried out under the pretense of serving a search warrant.”

Ejercito tweeted that he agreed with Lacson that the DOJ move was a “travesty of justice.”

“Too obvious,” he said of the move to downgrade the cases.

Gordon told reporters: “The police came numbering either 25 or 30. They destroyed the lock of the jail at night. They had a spurious search warrant and then when they entered [the jail], they ordered the jail guards to kneel and turn their backs and then the killings happened. So what do you call that? Are they insulting the people? They should not insult the people.”

But Gordon was more for the Espinosa family to petition the court for certiorari to review the DOJ action, which he said amounted to “abuse of discretion.”

The proposed resolution would stress that there is “no new evidence nor any compelling reason to reverse the finding that the Espinosa killing was premeditated” and “also sends a chilling message that abuses under the government’s war on drugs will be tolerated.”

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TAGS: Department of Justice, Espinosa killing, extrajudicial killings, Marvin Marcos, Panfilo Lacson, Rolando Espinosa Sr., Senate minority bloc, Vitaliano Aguirre II, war on drugs
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