Dela Rosa: 'No cover-ups' in probe into Espinosa death

MANILA, Philippines – Amid suspicions surrounding the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr during a police operation inside a provincial jail early Saturday morning, November 5, the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) promised "nothing will be hidden" or "covered up" in a police probe into the incident.

"Wala tayong itatago. Kung mayroon silang kasalanang ginawa, papanagutan nila 'yan… Hindi tayo mag-cover up. Kung sino nag-doubt, nag-aalinlangan sa imbestigasyon, wala po. Wala po tayong kino-cover up, kinocoveran sa investigation, 'yung totoo lang," said Director General Ronald dela Rosa in an interview with ABS-CBN Saturday afternoon (Manila time).

(We won't hide anything. If they did something wrong, they will have to answer for it. We're not covering anything up. Whoever doubts or has apprehensions about the investigation, there's no need. We are not covering anything up, the investigation will uncover the truth.)

Dela Rosa is currently in Las Vegas to watch a boxing match between long-time friend Senator Manny Pacquiao and Jessie Vargas.

Early Saturday morning, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8 operatives entered the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte to serve a search warrant against Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, for supposedly keeping firearms and illegal drugs in jail.

Espinosa has been detained since early October after he was charged for the possession of illegal firearms and illegal drugs. The Albuera mayor was among the first local chief executives to "surrender" to police after being linked to illegal drugs.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte in August called on Espinosa and his son, alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, to surrender peacefully or face a "shoot on sight" order.

The late mayor surrendered to no less than Dela Rosa himself in Camp Crame, less than 24 hours after Duterte issued the warning. He stayed inside the White House, Dela Rosa’s official residence inside the camp, before he eventually returned to Albuera where he was placed under police custody.

Police reports on the November 5 jail operation said a "firefight" erupted between Espinosa, Yap, and the police inside the jail. Both Espinosa and Yap were killed.

Crime scene investigators said they recovered a firearm in both Espinosa's and Yap's cells. A sachet of shabu and drug paraphernalia were also supposedly seized from Espinosa's cell.

Prior to his arrest, Espinosa supposedly executed an affidavit naming his son's links to the illegal drugs trade. Kerwin, Espinosa's son, has been accused of being the top drug lord in Eastern Visayas. Kerwin is currently detained in Abu Dhabi and is expected to be deported to the Philippines soon.

News of Espinosa's death in jail during a police operation was met with criticism and doubt from several sectors, including legislators.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, questioned how a prisoner inside a cell "could even think of fighting back against police officers serving a warrant."

"Offhand, I can smell EJK (extrajudicial killing)," said the retired police general.

Lacson questioned the need for police to serve the warrant "when they could simply coordinate with the warden."

Dela Rosa apparently had the same question. "Kasama sa investigation na gagawin natin. Bakit nagka-ganun. At 'di mo na kailangan siguro mag-search warrant. Tama nga, tama nga 'yung sinasabi na bakit may search warrant pa sa loob ng kulungan," he said.

(That's going to be part of the investigation. Why did that happen? You might not even need a search warrant. That's right, what people are asking. Why would you need a search warrant in jail?)

Lacson also said he was considering the reopening of a Senate probe into alleged instances of extrajudicial killings by police with a particular focus on the Espinosa case. Dela Rosa said he "respected" Lacson's opinion but emphasized that police units – the CIDG and the Region 8 Internal Affairs Service – will be conducting a probe free of cover-ups.

The PNP chief said he wanted to know the truth behind Espinosa's death, while defending the Eastern Visayas CIDG operatives.

"In fairness doon sa aming kapulisan, nagta-trabaho 'yan. Nakita mo 'yung ginawa nila, may search warrant pa. Although 'yun nga, may ganoong mga doubts na bakit kailangan pa ng search warrant," he said.

(In fairness to our police, they are just doing their job. You saw what they did, they even applied for a search warrant. But then again, there are doubts over the necessity of a search warrant.)

CIDG Director PC Supt Roel Obusan, meanwhile, has formed an investigating team composed of PS Supt Ramon Rafael, lawyer Virgilio Pablico, and SPO1 Rudy Gahar to assist in the investigation. Rafael's team boarded an early Sunday morning Air Asia flight bound for Tacloban.

Dela Rosa said the police would also be looking at the possibility that a so-called "blue book" that contains the names of officials (politicians and police alike) who supposedly aided and protected Kerwin's illegal operation had something to do with the mayor's death. – Rappler.com