Senate probe: What secrets will Kerwin Espinosa spill?
MANILA, Philippines – On Wednesday, November 23, Kerwin Espinosa will get the chance his slain father never had: detailing all he knows about the illegal drug trade in a public forum – before the Senate, no less.
Espinosa will be the key resource person as the Senate's committee on dangerous drugs and public order as well as committee on justice and human rights resume their probe into the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr, who was killed by the police after he supposedly fought back inside his own jail cell as they attempted to serve him a search warrant.
Wednesday is the second time the joint committees will meet to tackle the mayor's killing, which some senators have already criticized as a case of extrajudicial killing by the police. (READ: Senate probe: Poorly-written script in Espinosa killing?)
The cops have denied the allegation, although the Philippine National Police (PNP) has relieved all the officials and men involved in the operation.
President Rodrigo Duterte previously said he was inclined to believe the police's version of the story. Senator Panfilo Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, said he was confident that Duterte would change his mind.
The Espinosas were among the first high-profile personalities named – and later, nabbed by the police – in the Duterte administration's ongoing war on drugs.
The De Lima link
Espinosa's testimony will focus on his drug operations and the alleged involvement of government officials, including an incumbent senator.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who will also be attending the Wednesday hearing, has said that Espinosa was the "missing piece in the puzzle" of the illegal drugs trade not only in Eastern Visayas but in neighboring Central and Western Visayas.
Espinosa however said he's not a drug lord. (READ: Kerwin Espinosa: I will tell all but I'm no drug lord)
Espinosa arrived in the Philippines on November 18, after almost 5 months of hopping from one city to another before his eventual arrest in Abu Dhabi.
Here are a few issues we expect Espinosa to discuss during the hearing.
Why was Espinosa killed?
At the center of the hearing is what many senators are inclined to believe: that Mayor Espinosa was targeted and killed.
Senators have questioned circumstances leading up to the operation, including the request for a search warrant even if Espinosa was already in jail, the lack of coordination with other concerned police units, the early request for crime scene investigators, and the alleged inclusion of some police operatives in the Espinosa payroll.
Before he was killed, the Albuera mayor executed at least two affidavits before local police. But that affidavit is being questioned by the late Espinosa's relatives, including Kerwin himself.
"He even denied the signature of the mayor, he said that was not his father's signature," said Lacson in an interview on Tuesday, November 22, when asked about allegations that the affidavit was not authentic.
Ahead of the hearing, Lacson also revealed that several police officials involved in the supposed operation inside the sub-provincial jail in Baybay City had previously been part of the Espinosa payola.
"Kung nasa payola nila ang mga na-involve sa pagkamatay ng tatay niya, posibleng may pinagtatakpan (If those involved in the killing of his father are part of his payola, then maybe they were trying to cover their tracks)," said Lacson.
Chief Inspector Leo Laraga himself had earlier admitted that he shot Espinosa. Another police officer, meanwhile, shot Raul Yap, another inmate killed during the operation.
Lacson said Espinosa's testimony would "make clear the motives" behind the late Mayor Espinosa's death.
The younger Espinosa has executed an affidavit before the PNP's Anti-Illegal Drugs Group but this has yet to be made public.
Lacson himself has only read a draft of Espinosa’s written testimony.
According to Lacson, most of the personalities mentioned in the younger Espinosa's affidavit were police officials. The late mayor's affidavit detailed several police – from former Albuera police chiefs, Leyte police, and Ormoc City police – who supposedly received money regularly from the alleged drug lord. (READ: Politicians, police, media: Who were named in Espinosa's affidavit?)
The supply of illegal drugs, the late mayor had claimed in his affidavit, typically passed through Ormoc City from Luzon before it was distributed throughout the region.
Confirm Dayan's claim?
Espinosa will also be expected to spill the beans on former justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima's supposed links to him.
Espinosa, in his draft affidavit, had earlier claimed to have given De Lima over P8 million in "different tranches," according to Lacson.
On Tuesday, November 22, De Lima's ex-aide, Ronnie Dayan, said he did give De Lima drug money from Kerwin Espinosa.
Mayor Espinosa himself had earlier claimed that De Lima was part of the payroll. He said he met the senator in Baguio City and even attached a photo of De Lima and his son.
The mayor also claimed that they met again at a "dampa restaurant" in Manila, where he witnessed his son instruct another son to hand over "cash money" to a De Lima aide. – Rappler.com