Lacson: Duterte can still change mind about Espinosa slay

MANILA, Philippines – Is President Rodrigo Duterte's mind already made up?

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Sunday, November 13, expressed confidence that the President would change his mind about the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr by regional police who were serving a search warrant inside a sub-provincial jail.

The senator, who was once national police chief, was asked about Duterte's declaration that he believed the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8's version of events that led to the death of Espinosa inside his jail cell.

"I think he's talking in general terms. Sinasabi niyang siya ang nag-utos, nag-utos siya ng all-out war against drugs (He's just saying that he ordered an all-out war against drugs)," said Lacson during an interview over dzBB.

Just before dawn on November 5, CIDG and maritime police from the Eastern Visayas regional police office went to the sub-provincial jail in Baybay City to serve search warrants against Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap.

Espinosa and Yap supposedly possessed firearms in prison and were selling illegal drugs.

Witnesses, including inmates who lived close to the two, deny these claims. During an 8-hour Senate hearing into Espinosa's death, senators – both those allied with and opposed to the Duterte administration – expressed disbelief at the CIDG 8's narration of events, calling it a "poorly-written" script at best and extrajudicial killings at worst. (READ: Senate probe: Poorly-written script in Espinosa killing?)

Lacson himself, ahead of the hearings, already concluded that based on the circumstances surrounding the death of Espinosa, it was an extrajudicial killing.

But mere hours after the hearing, Duterte in a press conference reiterated his promise to support police if they get into trouble for doing their jobs.

Addressing those whom he said were probably wondering why he is siding with the police in operations like this, Duterte said: "Natural, utos ko iyon eh (Naturally, because that is is my order). The fight against drugs is mine. It was not somebody else's order."

Lacson said neither the Senate nor the Philippine National Police (PNP) would be swayed by Duterte's pronouncements. The PNP, through the CIDG based in Camp Crame and the Internal Affairs Service, is currently conducting a probe into the incident.

"Based on the latest reports I heard from inside Camp Crame, I'm confident that they won't cover this up and that they'll pursue the case. It's only a matter of explaining in detail to [Duterte] what really happened in Baybay so that he may be enlightened and proceed to do the right actions following the incident," said Lacson.

Asked if he thinks the President is likely to reverse his stand, Lacson said: "Based on past experience, when [Duterte] sees he erred, he will later correct himself."

Among Duterte's most prominent apologies in the context of the war on drugs came when he said sorry to 3 Pangasinan officials for linking them to a supposed "drug matrix" involving arch-nemesis Senator Leila de Lima.

The Senate is set to invite as resource persons Espinosa's son Kerwin, an alleged drug lord who is awaiting deportation from Abu Dhabi, and Espinosa's brother, Ramon.

"If Duterte is insisting… in spite of a full report by the PNP and a public notice of what's happening in the Senate because a lot watch it, and he continues to insist that the police did nothing wrong, then maybe he will be alone in making that claim," added Lacson.

Espinosa was the first local chief executive to "surrender" to police after he was linked to illegal drugs. The mayor and his son were ordered by Duterte to "surrender" following a police operation that resulted in the seizure of shabu from a tennis court near their Baybay home. Duterte said a "shoot on sight" order had been issued against the Espinosas should they resist their warrantless arrest.

Based on the late Albuera mayor's affidavit, he did several errands for his son, which included paying off politicians, police, and media personalities.

Espinosa had executed two affidavits before he was arrested and detained in the sub-provincial jail. In those documents, he named at least 50 people who supposedly got "protection money" from his son. –