6 linked to ‘drug-dealing’ Leyte mayor die in clash

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SIX ARMED men allegedly linked to Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera town and his son Kerwin were killed early Wednesday morning after a firefight erupted in a village there, police reports said on Wednesday.

According to the reports to the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) National Operation Center in Camp Crame, the firefight took place around 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Sitio Tinago, Barangay Benolho in Albuera in Leyte province.

Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos, PNP spokesman, citing information from the Leyte Provincial Police Director, Senior Supt. Franco Simborio, said policemen were patrolling the area when they were fired upon by gunmen.

“Initial gunfire came from the suspected members of the Espinosa group and our police officers returned fire and fought it out,” Carlos told reporters during a news briefing in Camp Crame on Wednesday.

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The PNP spokesman added that the Eastern Visayas Police Regional Director, Chief Supt.Elmer Belteja, said the police officers traded shots with 12 armed men.

Another police report reaching the PNP National Operation Center said the policemen recovered during a raid on three houses owned by the Espinosas 14 assorted long firearms, five caliber .45 pistols and rifle grenades.

The police report said that of the six suspects killed in the gunbattle two were from Mindanao, two from Cebu, one from Samar and one was identified as Ricky Gabrillo, an Albuera native and a former communist rebel.

According to the report, Gabrillo became the leader of an alleged private armed group of Mayor Espinosa.

Police said the former rebel was involved in killings in 2013, 2014 and during this year’s elections.

The report said the local police may press charges against the mayor based on the discovery of the private armed group on his property.

Authorities are pursuing four other suspects and had surrounded a suspected safehouse as press time.

The PNP spokesman said Wednesday’s operation was led by Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido of the Regional Public Safety Battalion 8.

The elder Espinosa surrendered to authorities on Tuesday after President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he will give a “shoot-on-sight order” to the police if the mayor and his son do not voluntarily surrender within 24 hours.

The mayor and his son Kerwin were linked to drug trafficking and alleged to be coddling drug dealers.

Reports say 237 grams of suspected shabu worth about P1.9 million were recovered by authorities in a buy-bust last Thursday near the houses of the Espinosas.

Five persons were arrested, all employees of Mayor Espinosa and Kerwin, who was reported to have undergone plastic surgery to mislead authorities.

The elder Espinosa also on Tuesday admitted his son has links to the drug trade.

PNP chief Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa also on Tuesday called on Kerwin to surrender or die.

Kerwin is reportedly out of the country, hiding in Singapore or Malaysia, de la Rosa said.

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