De Lima: Duterte may be impeached for protecting cops in Espinosa slay

Camille Elemia
De Lima: Duterte may be impeached for protecting cops in Espinosa slay
Senator Leila de Lima says President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement is a 'betrayal of public trust'

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima on Wednesday, December 7, said President Rodrigo Duterte may be “impeached” for declaring that he would not allow policemen tagged in the killing of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr to go to jail.

For the senator and fiercest critic of the Chief Executive, Duterte’s pronouncement is a “betrayal of public trust” as it is the judiciary – not the executive – that should decide on the case.

Under the 1987 Constitution, a president may be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”

Responding to questions, she said, “Yes, betrayal of public trust because there’s duty to enforce the law and part of his duty to enforce the law is making sure that those who are responsible for committing crimes are being made accountable.”

“Part of his duty, his sworn duty, is to respect the Constitution, including the separation of powers. Court ang nagdedeclare niyan, hindi niya puwede ipreempt ang korte (The court decides on that, he cannot preempt the court),” she added.

Citing the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation, De Lima denounced the President’s statement, saying it is not within his jurisdiction. She noted that the NBI, at this stage, had only recommended the filing of multiple murder charges against the police team.

Eto na naman, kinakasuhan pa lang ng NBI, pinapardon na naman niya (Here he goes again, the NBI is just preparing charges, and he is pardoning them already). That’s tantamount to pardon. Thats not even his duty; duty belongs to judiciary, court….Bordering na ‘yan on impeachability (That’s already bordering on impeachability),” De Lima told reporters.

“Why would he be defending them? How can there be accountability for these extrajudicial killings if the President himself keeps on shielding these law enforcers?” she added.

De Lima said this is “really impunity, out and out impunity; brazen impunity.”

Espinosa was among the first alleged drug personalities named by Duterte, who ordered the mayor and his son, alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, to surrender. Mayor Espinosa was killed inside his prison cell in Leyte during a police operation on November 5, as he allegedly fought back.

At a Senate probe into the mayor’s death, Kerwin alleged that Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 8, solicited campaign funds for his wife from the alleged drug lord.

Marcos was relieved following the issue but was reinstated after Duterte himself ordered it. (READ: Duterte: No need to explain order to retain Marcos)

Duterte part of murder conspiracy

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, another Duterte critic, slammed Duterte for making the statement, saying it could be used as “evidence” for a future criminal case against him. Unlike De Lima, he was still unconvinced that the President can be impeached because of it.

“Maganda, maganda ‘yang statement na ‘yan. That’s going to be used for evidence against him…eventually for conspiracy to commit murder. So pagka sibilyan na siya, kasi prescription ng murder ay 20 years. So sa statement niya na ‘yan dadawit at dadawit siya,” Trillanes said.

(That’s a good statement. That’s going to be used for evidence against him…eventually for conspiracy to commit murder. So when he returns to civilian life, because the prescription for murder is 20 years. So that statement would hold him liable.)

He claimed Duterte is the “mastermind” of the killing of Espinosa, citing the President’s own admission that he ordered the reinstatement of Marcos and now, trying to make sure that “the people he ordered” to kill the mayor “would not go to jail.”

“’Yung statement niya na ‘yan nagpapatunay na siya mastermind sa pagpatay kay Mayor Espinosa kasi konektado siya (His statement proves that he is the mastermind of the killing of Mayor Espinosa because he is connected),” Trillanes said.

De Lima shared Trillanes’ view, as she said somebody higher than Marcos could have ordered the killing of Espinosa.

Asked if if could be Duterte who led the “conspiracy,” De Lima said it’s “possible,” adding that Duterte’s latest pronouncement about the police team implicated in the death of Mayor Espinosa “is circumstantial evidence.”

“These are indicative of that angle na baka may kinalaman siya sa pagpatay (that he might have something to do with the killing),” she said.

De Lima and Trillanes are members of both the Senate committees on public order and justice, the panels leading the investigation into the Espinosa slay case. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email