A number of questions emerged on Saturday’s brazen killing of Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa inside his jail cell, with the Senate, the Department of Justice and the Leyte provincial government all eyeing separate investigations.
Malacañang said it was “puzzled” with Espinosa’s killing and described it as a huge blow to the anti-drug campaign, considering the late local executive had served as a government asset against illegal drug dealers.
According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), Espinosa fought back at operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) that were serving him a search warrant, at 4 a.m. on Saturday, for illegal possession of firearms inside his cell at the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City.
An inmate in a separate cell, Raul Yap, was also killed after fighting it out, the PNP claimed.
“I am puzzled because we all know Mayor Espinosa is a big help in the government’s war against drugs. Mayor Espinosa is an asset to the government’s investigation on who’s who in the upper echelon of drug rings,” Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a radio interview.
After being linked by President Rodrigo Duterte to illegal drugs, Espinosa surrendered to no less than PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa in August. Duterte had issued an ultimatum on the mayor and his son Kerwin to surrender within 24 hours or be killed.
The Espinosas were ordered arrested after authorities nabbed at least P88 million worth of shabu and 13 high-powered firearms and explosives at the Espinosa residence in Sitio Tinago, Barangay Binulho, Albuera town last August.
Kerwin fled but was nabbed in the United Arab Emirates last month and is set to return to the Philippines to face drug trafficking charges.
Andanar said he did not agree with Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s observation that Espinosa was likely a victim of extrajudicial killing.
“In the end, it will be the investigation of the Philippine National Police that we will look into and we will depend our comments on,” Andanar said.
The PNP said on Saturday its Internal Affairs Service would conduct a probe into the jail killing. The Eastern Visayas Police Office under Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar has also formed a panel to look into the incident.
‘No drugs, firearms’
The Leyte provincial government is pushing for a separate investigation on the shooting of Espinosa.
Provincial administrator Edgardo Cordeño said the local government, which supervises the detention facility, found out in an inspection last week that there were no illegal drugs and firearms kept by inmates.
This was contrary to the report of the CIDG that illegal drugs and firearms were found inside the prison facility.
“We had an inspection at the jail a week ago and did not discover any illegal contraband inside,” Cordeño told reporters.
The official wondered why the CIDG raided the facility without informing them first. The team entered the jail 4:00 a.m. or seven hours before the provincial government received the copy of search warrant.
The closed circuit television’s digital video recorder got lost after the incident. What was left was the monitor.
Espinosa and Yap were killed when they reportedly “fired upon the raiding team” led by Chief Insp. Leo Laraga of the CIDG.
Judge Tarcelo A. Sabarre, Jr., presiding of Regional Trial Court Branch 30 in Basey, Samar issued the search warrant, believing that the two detainees kept firearms and illegal drugs at their cells.
A police report stated that the raiding team recovered a sachet of suspected shabu and drug paraphernalia from Espinosa.
The team also found 15 sachets of suspected shabu, 27 sachets of suspected dried marijuana, repacking items, and drug paraphernalia from Yap.
The sub-provincial jail has eight cells with a capacity of 15 inmates each. The facility has only 44 prisoners.
Espinosa occupied Cell No. 1 alone while Yap and other inmates stayed in a separate cell.
Senate, NBI inquiries
Senator Richard Gordon on Sunday said he wanted a separate investigation into the killing of Espinosa and Yap instead of reopening the recently concluded Senate justice committee inquiry on the spate of drug related killings in the country.
Gordon, who heads the Senate justice and human rights committee, said he would file a resolution calling for a Senate investigation into the supposed shootout.
Also on Sunday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a parallel probe to “avoid a possible whitewash.”
“Our objective, as in all our probes, is to get to the truth. Ultimately, if persons are liable under our laws, they can be held accountable. We all want the truth, no matter how elusive or inconvenient it may be,” Aguirre said.