Espinosa’s death in jail a blow to Duterte’s credibility and capability

The killing the other day of Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was willing to pinpoint powerful personalities who had protected the illegal-drug trade in the last administration, is a major blow to both President Duterte’s credibility and his capability to fight the criminal syndicates.

Espinosa was killed by agents of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Eastern Visayas right inside the PNP’s sub-provincial jail. He was allegedly resisting a search warrant the CIDG wanted to serve — at 4:00 in the morning.

I bet the police would be claiming there were only a few of their men available at that time – the wee hours of the morning. The CIDG claimed that Espinosa refused the search and fought the police so they had no choice but to shoot him dead.

Espinosa was behind bars, and he shot it out with police, maybe with his table or bed mattress as his shield?

The police are taking us for fools. They have become arrogantly mad that because of their boss President Duterte’s popularity, and hundreds of recent incidents of suspects getting killed purportedly because they grabbed their police captors’ guns, that we’d believe them and there wouldn’t be outrage against their nefarious deed.

Espinosa’s alleged affidavit posted on several Facebook accounts.
Espinosa’s alleged affidavit posted on several Facebook accounts.

Well, Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has been very supportive of Duterte, and a police officer all his working life, knowledgeable about these kinds of killings, was quick to condemn it, saying it was a “clear case of extrajudicial killing.”

Why on earth did another inmate, Raul Yap, who had no connection at all to Espinosa, all of sudden decide to fight the CIDG agents too, and therefore, got shot to death, too?

“Obviously to silence a witness,” Lacson very logically argued. And as the police always claims after every deadly shoot-out with hundreds of illegal-drug suspects in the past few months, they found where Espinosa lay a .38 pistol with live ammunition, and of course, the ubiquitous sachet of shabu.

C’mon guys, this didn’t’ happen in some dark alley or slum, but in sub-provincial jail, for chrissake! Couldn’t they have waited until Espinosa, perhaps, ran out of bullets, or got too sleepy or hungry for breakfast and just surrendered?

Espinosa was the first drug lord Duterte named when he launched his war against illegal drugs. Duterte in August even announced that he gave Espinosa 24 hours to surrender. His home was later raided, and six of his bodyguards were killed in August.

PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa himself dealt with Espinosa, even having him as his “guest” at his official residence called the White House in August, apparently to convince him that he would be given full protection if he revealed his entire drug network. Espinosa, however, for two months was adamant to admit his involvement, claiming that it was his son Kerwin who dealt with illegal drugs.

De la Rosa later announced that Espinosa had spilled the beans on Kerwin, and that he had submitted a list of his son’s protectors and those of the illegal-drug syndicates. Because of his refusal to admit to his own involvement in illegal drugs, however, he was arrested only on October 5 for illegal possession of dangerous drugs and firearms, and jailed in the Leyte Sub-Provincial Jail in Baybay City.

PNP officials in September told media that Espinosa had submitted a notebook that contained a list of his son’s protectors. While this had not been made public, media questions directed at Espinosa on one occasion on whether the list contained the name of a former justice secretary and now a senator elicited nods from him. It was an obvious reference to Senator Leila de Lima, although some would argue that it could also apply to Senator Franklin Drilon, who had been for three years President Ramos’ justice secretary.

Yesterday, after the morning papers all had Espinosa’s killing as their banner-headlines, a photo of the first page of Espinosa’s alleged affidavit was posted on several Facebook accounts, among them by a pro-Duterte dutertenews.com. This had a list of people his alleged affidavit claimed were his son Kerwin’s protectors. Neither the PNP nor the Department of Justice, which had its “received” stamp on the alleged affidavit, has confirmed the authenticity of the affidavit.

First on the list was Senator Leila de Lima — who was shown in subsequent Facebook posts posing with Kerwin and his wife in Baguio City several years back. Included in the list were several police and Army generals, three local government leaders including a governor, and even three media men, including one from the Philippine Star.

The intention of the Facebook posts is obviously to claim that if not de Lima, one or a group of those Espinosa included in his “protectors” list was responsible for his murder.

This episode, though, leads to two contrasting conclusions, important to Duterte’s presidency.

First, Duterte and his main operator, PNP chief de la Rosa, are incapable of protecting a whistleblower, one of whom they convinced to serve as such after much effort, and only over the dead bodies of his six bodyguard.

How can they now convince others to come out and reveal what they know if the authorities could not even protect their prized whistleblower, Espinosa?

Espinosa’s killing could be interpreted as a slap especially on de la Rosa’s face, as it was undertaken when he was in Las Vegas to watch Manny Pacquiao’s boxing championship fight. But then, it’s been an old trick for devious criminals to claim they were out of the country when an evil deed was done.

A second explanation is that, it was Duterte’s own camp that liquidated Espinosa, after he refused to sign the affidavit he had allegedly made, pinning down de Lima and others to the illegal drug trade.

Whichever explanation is correct, Duterte has to come clean, and prove that he has the credibility and capability to lead the nation in its war against illegal drugs. It would be pure hubris for him to think that because of his enormous popularity, this shame on our police force and our justice system will just be forgotten after different headlines appeared they way they did.

Who does he think he is?

A worried Espinosa with PNP chief de la Rosa.
A worried Espinosa with PNP chief de la Rosa.

PNP chief dela Rosa, who, in effect, had put Espinosa under his protective wing, soured Manny Pacquiao’s sweet victory yesterday by appearing with an ear-to-ear smile behind the boxer senator right on the ring after his victory — as if nothing of importance under his responsibility had occurred in Manila.

He should have rushed home right after he was informed of Espinosa’s murder, even if only to send the message he would get to the bottom of it.

After a few months being in the limelight, does de la Rosa think he’s now a celebrity or is as rich as political barons Chavit Singson or Rodolfo Farinas that he could burn money to watch Pacquiao’s prize fight in Las Vegas? With his salary and savings as a very honest police official, could he have afforded the plane fare, the Las Vegas hotel, and the ringside tickets for the fight? If not, who or what group paid for it? I hope he didn’t spend the PNP’s unaudited intelligence fund.

I don’t remember any police official, or any Cabinet member, ever appearing with Pacquiao in his fights. They knew that unlike politicians, who became rich partly through their posts, they’d be validly called to task how they could afford to be there.

It’s gone to his head. Bato thinks he is as popular as Duterte, and can do whatever he wants to do. For the head of our police force, that’s dangerous.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
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