PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday dared arch-nemesis Sen. Leila de Lima to lead an impeachment case against him following his defense of the policemen who killed Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
“They can go ahead. Bakit pa mas maraming daldal? Sige na, impeach na… Hayaan mo sila [Why is there so much talk? Go ahead, impeach me],” the President told reporters in Legazpi City, where he attended groundbreaking ceremonies for the planned Bicol International Airport.
Duterte on Wednesday defended the policemen who killed Espinosa during a November 5 raid of the Baybay City sub-provincial jail, despite the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that the killing was a “rubout.”
The President said he was more inclined to believe the police, whom he had ordered to kill drug suspects who resist arrest.
“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?” he said.
The NBI filed cases against the police officers, members of the Eastern Visayas Criminal Investigation and Detection Group led by Supt. Marvin Marcos, on December 2.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo dismissed de Lima’s claim that Duterte’s declaration was tantamount to “betrayal of public trust,” an impeachable offense.
“Of course not. Why should it be an impeachable offense? It’s not even an offense,” Panelo told reporters.
Panelo pointed out that the NBI findings were not enough to prove the policemen murdered Espinosa.
“It doesn’t mean the NBI is correct because the court will have to decide whether they are correct or not. The presumption of innocence applies to all the accused in this case,” he said.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald de la Rosa said on Thursday the President won’t circumvent legal proceedings in helping 24 policemen accused of murdering Espinosa.
Clarifying President Duterte’s statement on Wednesday that he would not allow the policemen to go to jail, de la Rosa said: “What he meant was that he would find ways through legal means.”
“He doesn’t want policemen jailed because the police operating in the war on drugs will be demoralized,” he said in Filipino.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar echoed this, saying Duterte was merely boosting the morale of the PNP.
“The recent pronouncements of the President pertaining to the PNP, standing by his men, are critical to maintaining their high morale, with the end in view of succeeding in the anti-drug campaign,” Andanar said in a statement.
“It should not be misinterpreted to mean that the President will intervene in investigations or any legal proceedings in order to exculpate erring cops,” he added.
In a news conference, Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag clarified that the President did not pardon the policemen involved in the killing.
“That is entirely not true. The support that the President stated … may come in the form of legal assistance,” Banaag told reporters.
Banaag also dismissed the claim of Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th that Duterte could have masterminded the killing of Espinosa, whom the President accused of involvement in illegal drugs in August.
“That’s not fair, that’s not true… What the President said was that … he was the one who declared the war against drugs,” Banaag said.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said Duterte may have been using “hyperbole” and was merely
expressing his opinion.
“So there is nothing wrong. I see nothing wrong … The President is merely exercising his constitutional right to free expression,” he added.