File photo of PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa File photo by Joel Liporada/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent promise to “pardon” policemen tagged in the killing of alleged drug personality Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. may leave many puzzled, but not the national police chief.
“Simple lang. Ayaw niyang pabayaan yung pulis na nagtratrabaho. Ayaw niyang ibitin sa ere,” said Dela Rosa in a press conference on Monday, April 3. (It’s simple. He does not want to desert police who do their jobs. He doesn’t want to leave them hanging.)
Dela Rosa was asked to explain Duterte’s latest pronouncements over the weekend concerning cops accused of faking an operation to kill Espinosa inside his jail cell in November last year.
“I will not allow any military or police personnel to go to jail for doing their duty,” said Duterte on March 31, without directly mentioning the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos and his men, Leyte police accused of killing Espinosa.
In a chance interview on Sunday, April 2, Duterte expounded on his earlier statements, this time specifically referring to the Espinosa case. “Look, the Department of Justice is under me. Yung pumatay sa Albuera, hinayaan ko [yung] kaso (The ones in the case of the Albuera mayor, I let the case proceed). I could have used my influence as president [pero] hinayaan ko (but I let it be). Department of Justice filed murder cases against the policemen but as I promise you, no policeman or military will go to jail for doing his duty,” said the President.
“Ok lang I’ll (It’s okay, I’ll) pardon them. The Constitution says the President can pardon a convict criminal absolute or conditional,” said Duterte, still referring to the policemen, former members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Maritime Group units of Eastern Visayas.
Dela Rosa, for his part, explained: “Ever since he was a fiscal, kilala na siya na nagsusuporta ng law enforcement. Kung nakikita niya na dapat tulungan dahil nagtratrabaho lang ito, tutulungan niya talaga yan… Sabi niya upakan natin itong drug problem ng Pilipinas, umupak ka. Kapag upak mo, nagkakaso ka. Ngayon iiwan ka niya? Hindi siya ganoon.”
(Since he was a fiscal, he’s been known to support law enforcement. If he sees you’re worth helping because you were just doing your job, he will help you. He said, let’s work on the drug problem in the Philippines and you did your job. But when you did your job, you were sued. Should Duterte leave you now? He’s not that kind of person.)
But the case isn't just simple case of policemen doing their job.
On November 5, personnel from the CIDG 8 entered the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City, Leyte, to serve search warrants against Espinosa and another inmate for supposedly possessing firearms and illegal drugs in jail. Police alleged Espinosa fought back, making it necessary for them to fire back and kill him.
But various bodies – the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Senate – have cast doubt on that claim. The NBI has labelled the incident a “rubout” while the Senate said Espinosa’s death was a means to “cover-up” the cops’ own involvement in the drug trade.
Marcos and his men are currently under the custody of the NBI, after a Leyte court issued warrants of arrest against them over the death of Espinosa and Raul Yap.
The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS), among the bodies that can recommend administrative cases against police, has also concluded its own probe into the case. While Dela Rosa has already signed the decision, he refused to divulge its results to media, saying he might make a mistake in saying which police personnel was demoted, suspended, or dismissed.
Mayor Espinosa was among the first local chief executives whom Duterte publicly accused of having ties to illegal drugs. His son, Kerwin, allegedly controlled the drug trade in the Eastern Visayas region, a claim he has denied. Kerwin has since been arrested and is in the custody of the NBI.
The older Espinosa “surrendered” to Dela Rosa himself, less than 24 hours after Duterte issued a warning to father and son to surrender lest risk a “shoot on sight” order.
The mayor issued several affidavits before police before his death, in which he detailed persons who alleged benefited from their illegal business. Weeks after he died, Kerwin returned to the country following his arrest in Abu Dhabi.
Dela Rosa admitted that had ordered Marcos relieved after Kerwin told Philippine police in Abu Dhabi that he and several of him men were part of the Espinosa drug payroll. But a “higher up,” said Dela Rosa, intervened and the relief was cancelled.
After several days of confusion, denials, and verbal spats with administration critics, Duterte said he intervened because he was supposedly “investigating” Marcos’ alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
The Senate would later advice Duterte not to “micromanage” the PNP, a label Dela Rosa denied. It’s not micromanaging, he said. The former Davao mayor was just being a “hands-on leader,” he added. – Rappler.com