November 23, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Undying issues in the Espinosa killing

Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. of Albuera town, and a fellow inmate, Rudy Yap were shot dead before dawn (October 29, 2016) by police officers who staged a raid in search of firearms and illegal drugs in the provincial jail in Leyte’s Baybay city (AP 11.05.2016). Espinosa was among more than 160 officials suspected of drug involvement named publicly by President Duterte in August 2016 as part of a shame campaign (Ibid.). At the Senate inquiry on the jail killing, Espinosa’s son Kerwin, who confessed to being a drug dealer in the region, testified that the CIDG-8 Head, Supt. Marvin Marcos, whose outfit conducted the raid and killed Espinosa Sr., “was on his payroll” -- an allegation that Marcos tearfully denied on national TV (ABS-CBN News 03.20.2017).

At a CNN-Philippines ambush interview Duterte admitted that it was he who spoke to PNP chief de la Rosa to reinstate Marcos as head of CIDG-8 even after the raid-killing ( 03.02.2017). “After the probe, (P/Chief Supt. Asher) Dolina was cleared, but Marcos turned out to be positive. I was keeping track of his movements. If he gets removed, I will not be able to follow his whereabouts” (Ibid.). Duterte said that he would still give Marcos the opportunity to be heard (Ibid.).

“Offhand, I can smell extrajudicial killing,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief said early-on (AP 11.05.2016). During the Senate investigation, the jail warden, jail guards, and inmates all said that Espinosa was unarmed and no shootout occurred (CNN Philippines 11.11.2016). Lacson also pointed out that one of the PNP-CIDG operatives had called for a PNP-SOCO forensics team even before the raiding team entered the jail (Ibid.)

“I believe in the version of the police. If they have evidence to prove otherwise, then a case should be filed against the police, President Duterte said then (Ibid). Members of the raiding team had claimed that they shot Espinosa and Yap in self-defense when a gunfight broke out as they attempted to serve a search warrant (Time Magazine 12.07.2016). They told senators Espinosa had fired at them first -- using a gun that he somehow managed to sneak into his prison cell (CNN Philippines 11.11.2016).

The NBI said that the killing was a “rubout” and that “it could be part of a much larger conspiracy” ( 12.06.2016). It was recommended that murder charges be filed against Supt. Marcos and his men (Philippine Star 07.15.2017). The Senate panel that conducted an investigation last year concluded that Espinosa’s killing during an operation led by Marcos was premeditated (Ibid). However, the Department of Justice, which has supervision over the NBI, downgraded the charges to homicide and allowed the accused police officers to post bail (Ibid.).

The four-month suspension of Marcos et al. has now lapsed. And only a day after President Duterte declared in a speech that he wanted Marcos returned to duty status, PNP Chief de la Rosa announced last week: “Marcos was reinstated. His case was resolved. Effective July 11, Marcos is chief of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Soccsksargen Region 12” (The Philippine Star 07.14.2017).

And the right of the accused to due process is of course the reason for the extra patience needed to be absolutely sure of the still-live criminal charges of double homicide upon Marcos et al. The administrative charges have been effectively remedied, for the re-assignment(s) announced means no expulsion from the service, no demotion, no other penalties, except for what Sen. Lacson calls a “slap on the wrist”.

Lacson, chairman of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee announced that an inquiry will be held on the reinstatement of the accused police officers led by Marcos within the week after the opening of the second regular session of Congress on July 24 (The Philippine Star 07.15.2017). Sen. Grace Poe said there was clearly probable cause that led to the filing of a case of murder against Marcos and his men, so how they got off so easily would have an effect on the image of the PNP as a whole (The Philippine Star 07.14.2017).

Sen. Risa Hontiveros declared it an “outright obstruction of justice from the highest level of governance and executive promotion of extrajudicial killings” (Ibid.). Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV boldly lashed that the reinstatement of Marcos and his men was meant to protect Duterte from being implicated in the killing of Espinosa (The Philippine Star 07.15.2017).

For the Commission on Human Rights, the reinstatement of Marcos sends a wrong message and undermines the rule of law. “It furthers the culture of impunity, especially after charges were downgraded from murder to homicide even if the National Bureau of Investigation and Senate reports determined that the death of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa was premeditated and with abuse of authority” (Ibid.).

For the international organization Human Rights Watch, the decision to reinstate Marcos and the other policemen showed that the law enforcers supposedly involved in summary killings are enjoying impunity under the Duterte administration (Ibid.)

Duterte said even during the campaign period, and into his incumbency that he would pardon policemen convicted of killing criminals and civilians while performing their duties ( 10.05.2016). In September Duterte told soldiers that criminals should be killed whether or not they fight back: “Pagka bumunot, patayin mo. ‘Pag hindi bumunot, patayin mo rin, p*tang *na, para matapos na. Eh kaysa mawala pa ‘yung baril. Ako na ang bahala sa inyo,” he said (Ibid.). Maybe all that was in jest. Braggadocio and hyperbole.

But Police Chief de la Rosa has a pathetic, sympathetic statement about the reinstatement of Marcos et al.: “We were able to show that the justice system works,” he said. “If a drug pusher or a drug lord can claim the right to due process, why not a police officer who has undergone due process?” (PDI 07.14.2017)

Does it all depend on whether you are on the inside looking out or on the outside looking in?

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.