President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday came to the defense of the policemen who killed Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. despite the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI’s) findings that the killing was a “rubout.”
The President said he would not interfere with the NBI’s decision to file murder cases against the policemen involved in the incident, but added he would not allow them to go to prison.
“I will not allow these guys to go to prison, even if the NBI says it was murder. After all, the NBI is under me, the Department of Justice is under me,” Duterte said in remarks during ceremonies for the Urban Poor Solidarity Week in Mandaluyong City.
“But to tell you, I do not interfere. They have findings, good. File the case but I won’t leave the policemen implicated in the killing,” he added.
On Tuesday, the NBI declared a “rubout” and not a shootout the killing of Espinosa at the hands of a raiding team from the Eastern Visayas Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) last November 5.
The NBI filed murder charges last Friday against 24 police officers at the Department of Justice after a probe found “criminal intent” and conspiracy to kill Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap during the raid of the Baybay City sub-provincial jail.
The CIDG raiding team, led by Chief Insp. Leo Laraga and accompanied by regional CIDG head Supt. Marvin Marcos, claims Espinosa and Yap fired guns when they conducted a search of their cells for illegal firearms and drugs on a warrant obtained from a Samar judge.
The November 5 raid raised questions as it was conducted at dawn. Lawmakers have also pointed out that there was no need to search Espinosa and Yap for illegal possession of firearms and drugs as they were already under government custody.
‘Police version’ more believable
Duterte on Wednesday said he was more inclined to believe the police, whom he had ordered to kill drug suspects who resist arrest.
“I still believe in the version of the police because we mayors, congressmen, who do we believe – the police or a criminal or those speculations?” he said.
“Whatever the police say, that’s the truth for me. The NBI said it was murder. The police said, ‘Sir, he fought back.’ I believe the police. Why would I sacrifice the police for that?” the President added.
Espinosa and his son Kerwin were linked by President Duterte to illegal drugs in August. Espinosa turned himself over to the Philippine National Police and was later arrested for illegal possession of drugs and firearms.
Kerwin fled to the United Arab Emirates but was nabbed by authorities and brought to Manila on November 18.
Last month, Kerwin told a Senate inquiry he had given protection money to Sen. Leila de Lima, a leading critic of the President’s bloody war on illegal drugs, through her ex-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre I2nd said a panel composed of five prosecutors will evaluate the complaints filed against the police officers who were charged with murder, robbery, malicious procurement of search warrant, perjury and planting of evidence.
The NBI, in its complaint said the policemen “were all moved by a single criminal intent.”
“There is no indication that the police operatives, who participated in the killing, had desisted or those who acted as look outs had prevented the raiding team from shooting the victims. These only demonstrate their concerted efforts to perpetrate the commission of the crime,” it added.
The DOJ did not oppose the order of Judge Carlos Arguelles of Baybay City Regional Trial Court transferring Espinosa to the NBI from the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
Espinosa is facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and illegal drugs before the Baybay City RTC.
‘Bordering at impeachability’
Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th said the President’s statement indicated that he masterminded the killing of Espinosa.
“Based on the investigation of NBI, the incident was a rubout but the President is trying save them (Marcos and his group) and he is making his own story, so in effect he is obstructing the administration of justice,” he said.
For Senator de Lima, the statement was “bordering at impeachability.”
“It’s a betrayal of public trust because it’s his (Duterte) duty to enforce the law. And part of his duty to enforce the law is making sure that those who are responsible for committing crimes are being made accountable,” said de Lima.