MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte said he "will not allow" Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos and cops involved in the operation against the late Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr to go to jail despite official findings that they are liable for murder.
"I will not allow these guys to go to prison maski na sabihin ng NBI, murder (even if the National Bureau of Investigation says it was murder)," Duterte said at the Urban Poor Solidarity Week in Mandaluyong City on Wednesday, December 7.
"Eh tutal, under ko rin 'yan (Anyway, it is also under me)," he added, referring to the NBI.
Duterte made the statement a day after the NBI released its findings that Espinosa was killed in a rubout. It recommended multiple murder charges against the 24 police officers involved in the operation at the Leyte Sub-Provincial Jail in Baybay City on November 5.
Alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, son of the slain mayor, had accused Marcos of soliciting P3 million from him for campaign funds for his wife, a mayoral candidate in the 2016 elections.
Duterte earlier said he believed in Marcos' version of events – that the mayor had fought back, forcing police to use deadly force during the raid.
Duterte had also admitted that he ordered Marcos' reinstatement despite the decision of Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to relieve Marcos from his post due to his suspected drug links.
Though he did not want Marcos' team in jail – and even after he said that the NBI was under him anyway – Duterte said he would not interfere in the filing of cases against them.
"I do not obstruct. So the finding of NBI is murder. Good. File a case," he said.
Duterte insisted that as President and thus, head of the police force, it is just normal that he side with the police.
"Kung ano ang sinabi ng pulis, 'yun ang totoo sa akin...Hindi ko pababayaan ang pulis. Kasi sabihin, ako ang may utos eh. 'Kasi sabi mo Sir, hulihin namin tapos 'pag lumaban,'" said Duterte, who didn't complete the sentence.
(Whatever the police says, that is what I believe as true....I won't abandon the police. Because it would be said, I was the one who gave the order. "You said, Sir, arrest then if he fights back.")
The President was apparently referring to his standing order to the police to shoot criminals who fight back. This was Marcos' explanation for the death of Espinosa.
While he believes in the cops' version, Duterte said in another speech the same day that he may still change his mind if the NBI digs up better evidence.
"It's just an investigation. Wala naman kayong witness diyan na nagsabi nakita niya (You don't have a witness who said he saw everything). Come up with something good and maybe I will have a doubt," he said.
During the campaign, Duterte had said that he would pardon convicted police officers who kill criminals, and even civilians, in the line of duty.
In discussing his anti-crime strategy in February, which resonated with many Filipinos, Duterte said he would provide a "pre-signed form" to law enforcers, which would assure the latter of presidential pardon should they get prison terms for deaths during encounters with criminals.
Duterte, then a presidential candidate, also said that if he got elected, he would direct policemen and the military to not be deterred in killing "all" criminals because it is his "personal order." (READ: Duterte: No 'bloodless cleansing' vs crime)
The President declined to be interviewed after the Mandaluyong event as he was running late for the Armed Forces of the Philippines' change of command ceremony, his second event of the day. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.