THE lawyer of Albuera (Leyte) mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was shot dead inside his jail cell on Saturday, fears she may be the killers’ next target, and has sought the help of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
In a letter to VACC chairman Dante Jimenez, Leilani Trinidad Villarino said she did not feel safe, fearing she might suffer the same fate as Espinosa’s former lawyer, Rogelio Bato Jr., who was gunned down in Tacloban City (Leyte) on August 23. The unidentified gunmen also killed the teenager who was with Bato.
“Considering the questionable circumstances surrounding the death of my client, I feel that I am also in danger. Due to the gravity and seriousness of the allegations of my client in his sworn statements implicating top politicians, police officials and other notable individuals, I fear that I will suffer the same fate as Atty. Bato,” she added.
Several government agencies, including the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Police Commission (Napolcom) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), have announced that they will investigate the killing of Espinosa inside the Baybay City provincial jail.
Villarino asked Jimenez to help her convey her request for police security escorts to PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa or to Chief Supt. Noli Talino, the head of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas where Leyte is located.
“Although I am connected as a guest lecturer of the Regional Training Center 7 since 2011 and a member of the Regional Advisory Councils of CIDG 7 and RIAS 7, I have not asked these units formally for any assistance,” she said, referring to the Criminal Investigation Group and Regional Internal Affairs Services in the region.
Villarino also appealed to Jimenez to ask the PNP to provide security to the children of Espinosa, whose wake is being held at their residence in Albuera.
Because of the public outrage over the killing of Espinosa, the PNP has started its inquiry into the shooting incident that also left another inmate, Raul Yap, dead.
Police had claimed that Espinosa and Yap had tried to shoot at police officers who were about to serve a search warrant at 4 a.m.
PNP Deputy Director General Francisco Uyami Jr. said the investigation seeks to establish the circumstances leading to the shootout.
Uyami added that personnel of the CIDG involved in the serving of the search warrant led by Chief Insp. Leo Laraga will be investigated.
“As a matter of standard procedure, the PNP has started investigating the incident to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the involvement of the personnel of the CIDG,” he said in a statement.
Citing reports, the police official said Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) recovered a Super .38 pistol in the cell of Espinosa and another caliber .45 Colt commander in Yap’s cell.
Uyami added that the search was ordered by Judge Tarcelo Sabarre, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 30 of Basey, Samar.
The police official justified the serving of the search warrant against Espinosa, saying the police had received reports that Espinosa was keeping firearms and illegal drugs inside his detention cell.
“There is no law that says a search warrant may not be implemented in a government facility. That has happened before,” Uyami said, adding that police personnel found to have violated the standard operating procedure will be sanctioned.
PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said Chief Supt. Roel Ubusan, CIDG director, has formed an investigating team to assist in the probe.
The PNP-Internal Affairs Service has also ordered its unit in Region 8 to conduct an investigation to determine possible administrative liability of the CIDG operatives involved in the operation.
The NBI also on Monday said it is sending probers and forensic teams to Albuera to investigate the death of Espinosa.
NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said the teams will work in tandem with NBI Region 8 under Jerry Abiera.
“The investigators will conduct an in-depth probe while the forensic [teams]will gather evidence from the crime scene,” Lavin told reporters.
DILG steps in
Ismael Sueno, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary, also directed the Napolcom to conduct a parallel investigation of the shootout that left Espinosa dead.
Sueno said the Napolcom probe will determine the culpability of the concerned police officers involved in the incident.
“While the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service has automatically started its own investigation, it is still necessary for Napolcom to get into the picture to lend integrity and credibility to the probe,” he added.
“We have to know what really transpired on that day. We owe the family of the slain inmates and the public a factual and detailed account of the incident,” Sueno said.
The DILG chief admitted that many questions were left unanswered.
“Was there really a shootout? Was there coordination with the regional and provincial police offices? Why was the search warrant hastily served too early on a Saturday morning?”
House eyes probe
The House of Representatives is also poised to hold its own investigation of the incident.
Antipolo City 2nd District Rep. Romeo Acop also on Monday vowed to conduct an inquiry into the questionable killing of Espinosa once a resolution is filed.
“From the reports that I have heard and read, all the signs of a summary killing are there, unless all the questionable actions on the part of the operating offices will be answered by them,” Acop, the chairman of the Committee on Public Order and Safety said.
Acop, a former police general, questioned the serving of a search warrant at dawn inside a government facility that is already under the control of the government.