ALLEGED drug kingpin Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. on Wednesday claimed Sen. Leila de Lima had offered him protection in exchange for P8 million, which she received through her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Palisoc Dayan.
Espinosa testified before a Senate inquiry five days after being repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, where he fled after he and his slain father Rolando Sr. were linked by President Rodrigo Duterte to the illegal drug trade.
Espinosa told senators he gave de Lima, through Dayan, a total of P8 million in separate occasions between August 2015 and February 2016.
De Lima, a leading critic of the government’s war on drugs, had been accused by President Duterte of benefiting from the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, which the senator vehemently denies.
In his 27-page affidavit presented before the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Espinosa narrated how he became acquainted with de Lima who was then the secretary of the Department of Justice, and ended coughing up P8 million for her senatorial campaign.
According to him, he was in Anilao, Batangas for a diving trip in August 2015 when he got a call from Albuera, Leyte police director Chief Insp. Jovie Espinido who said the driver-bodyguard of de Lima wanted to talk to him.
Espinosa said Dayan called three hours later and informed him de Lima needed funds for the 2016 election.
Espinosa said he then called another high-profile drug kingpin, Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz who was killed by police in June, to inquire about de Lima’s request. Diaz, he said, advised him to call Peter Co, a convicted drug lord detained at the Bilibid.
Co, who Espinosa said was his “boss,” said de Lima was safe to deal with but cautioned the transactions should be kept secret.
Two days later, Dayan again called Espinosa and the latter agreed to give a monthly “payola” to de Lima amounting to P700,000, and P2 million as “goodwill money.”
He said Dayan initially demanded P2 million monthly, but the amount went down to P700,000.
Espinosa said he first made the cash delivery in August 2015 at the parking building of the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. He said he was driving a black Toyota Fortuner.
Dayan, he said, instructed him to proceed to the fifth level of the parking building. He said he handed over cash amounting to P2 million, wrapped in a paper bag and placed inside a plastic bag.
The second delivery amounting to P1.7 million was made in the afternoon of October 2015 at one of the restaurants on Macapagal Avenue, Espinosa said.
Espinosa asked if he could meet de Lima personally, and Dayan agreed but said the meeting should be outside Manila.
Espinosa said he received another call from Dayan on November 2015 asking him to travel to Baguio City for the third delivery of cash and to meet de Lima.
That delivery, amounting to P2 million, happened between November 19 and 22.
“We shook hands and I whispered to her (de Lima) that the money was already with Dayan,” Espinosa said in Filipino.
The last delivery, he said, was done on February 1, 2016, when he handed P2.3 million to Dayan at the fourth floor of the parking building of the Mall of Asia.
Espinosa claimed his drug operations in Eastern Visayas went smoothly after his transactions with de Lima.
De Lima, who attended the inquiry, chose not to cross-examine Espinosa, saying it was “pointless, useless, futile” as Espinosa had a “very nice script.”
“I categorically, firmly, and absolutely deny having known Mr. Kerwin Espinosa. I do not remember any instance or occasion of having met him. I categorically, firmly, and absolutely deny having received any money, any cash from Mr. Kerwin Espinosa, either directly or indirectly through anyone else, in any occasion at any time, whether that money is supposedly for either protection or fund-raising for campaign expenses,” the embattled senator said.
“Final message to Mr. Kerwin Espinosa. I cannot talk to him directly, but may I just say this: May God forgive you for all your sins, and may God forgive you for all your lies about me. And I forgive you,” she added.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said he found the testimony of Kerwin Espinosa “too perfect” and raised the possibility of a “deal” between Espinosa and the authorities.
“If you are very detailed in a specific story but vague in others, your memory is in question,” Casiple said in an interview.
Members of the Senate committee should be careful in handling the testimony of Espinosa, considering that a colleague, de Lima, was among those accused.