De Lima denies role in Espinosa death: 'Absurd, pathetic'

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima denied insinuations she had a role in the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr inside his jail in Leyte province.

It was Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who alleged that De Lima is behind Espinosa's death, saying the senator was the first person listed in the late mayor's affidavit of drug coddlers.

But De Lima rejected the allegation and reiterated she does not know Espinosa or his son Kerwin, a suspected drug lord.

"Nakakatawa na po sila. (They are too funny.) They are so absurd to the point of being pathetic already. Lahat na lang pinipilit na ituro sa akin, 'di ko nga kilala 'yang mga Espinosa na 'yan (They are trying to blame me for everything. I do not even know those Espinosas)," De Lima said in a press conference in Manila on Monday, November 7.

For De Lima, the mayor's death seems like an extrajudicial killing backed by the administration.

"The circumstances surrounding the killing are very, very suspicious. Imagine, nakakulong na, mag-se-serve ng search warrant ng madaling araw. Bakit CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) ang mag-se-serve?" De Lima said

(The circumstances surrounding the killing are very, very suspicious. Imagine, they were already in prison, why do the operatives have to serve the search warrant in the wee hours of the morning? Why was the CIDG the one that served it?)

Authorities said Espinosa was killed after he fired at cops serving the search warrant against him – something that the senator found questionable.

"Bakit naman manlalaban pa ang nakakulong na? It's an oft-repeated version ng nanlaban katulad ng mga pinatay nilang thousands of suspected drug pushers na pinapalabas nilang nanlaban din," she said.

(Why would they retaliate when they are already inside the prison? It's an oft-repeated version of the "fought back" excuse like what they did to the thousands of suspected drug pushers who they claim resisted arrest.)


De Lima, citing a news report, said Espinosa supposedly told his sibling that he was forced to sign the prepared affidavit.

With the mayor's death, De Lima said the administration has gone overboard with impunity. Like her colleagues, she said there should be a thorough probe into the killing.

"Masyado na silang brazen, mega impunity. Wala nang pretensions diyan sa mga pinaggagagawa nila," the senator said.

(They have become too brazen. This is mega impunity. They no longer have pretensions in carrying out killings.)

"Sobra na ho ang impunity. Sobra nang nakaka-insulto 'yung mga kasinungalingan at kabaliwan at kahibangan na ginagawa nila para lang ituro lang ako, si Leila de Lima, because this is all part of the agenda of the President to destroy me at all costs," she added.

(The impunity is too much. Their lies and fantasies are insulting, just to blame me, Leila de Lima, because this is all part of the agenda of the President to destroy me at all costs.)

Espinosa and his son Kerwin were among the first alleged drug personalities named by President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered them to surrender. Espinosa quickly heeded the call, but Kerwin remained at large until his arrest in Abu Dhabi mid-October.

On October 4, the mayor was arrested in connection with violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, stemming from a PNP raid on his house that yielded 11 kilos of suspected shabu and high-powered weapons. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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