Espina hands in resignation as PNP OIC

MANILA, Philippines – Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, who has headed the national police force as its officer-in-charge (OIC) since December 2014, offered to resign 4 months before his scheduled retirement in July.

Espina has been the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s OIC since December 2014, following the preventive suspension of its former chief, Director General Alan Purisima.

He gave the letter before his promotion from Deputy Chief of Operations to Deputy Chief of Administation effective Tuesday, April 14. According to at least 3 high-ranking officials from the PNP, Espina gave President Benigno Aquino III his letter of resignation last March. (READ: Leonardo Espina: Leading a PNP in 'crisis')

In a chance interview on Tuesday, April 14, Espina dodged Rappler's question about his resignation letter.

It was an apparent effort on his part to give the President a free hand in choosing a permanent PNP chief to replace resigned PNP boss Alan Purisima, according to a top PNP official.

The President at that time reacted by asking Espina for a few days to think about it, a source told Rappler. 

Espina has served as the PNP’s head as it soldiers through its biggest crisis to date: a PNP Special Action Force (SAF)-led operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao that claimed the lives of 67, including 5 civilians, 18 Muslim rebels, and 44 SAF troopers.

Not the first time

It’s not Espina’s first time to express his willingness to let go of his interim role as the PNP’s top cop.

In December 2014, just as news of Purisima’s suspension broke, Espina told Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II of his willingness to be bypassed as the PNP’s OIC.

Several Rappler sources confirmed that Espina indeed submitted a letter to Roxas saying he would be more than willing to relinquish the job to the PNP’s next highest-ranking official, Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo, Jr.

For 4 months, Espina and Garbo were the only two members of the PNP’s Command Group, which is normally composed of 4 police officials.

The vacancies came about in December after Purisima’s suspension and the retirement of then Deputy Chief for Administation Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas.

Purisima later resigned as PNP chief in the days following the January 25 “Oplan Exodus.”

For more than 4 months now, the Command Group has been without a full-time chief. On Tuesday, Police Director Danilo Constantino officially joined Espina and Garbo in the Command Group. 

A PNP in crisis

Espina, the PNP’s 3rd-highest ranking official then, was eventually picked to be the OIC while Purisima was suspended.

Several police officials, including Espina himself, admitted this was a difficult set-up for the police force.

Although the suspended Purisima was not allowed to exercise the powers of a PNP chief, officials close to him remained loyal and refused to recognize Espina’s authority. (READ: Don’t mess with the police, Mr President)

While he denied commanding “Oplan Exodus,” it was later revealed through legislative hearings and formal investigations that Purisima was a key player prior to and even during the operation.

The 4-star general, a close friend of President Benigno Aquino III’s, sat in briefings the month leading to the Mamasapano operation. On January 25, Purisima was receiving and relaying information to military and police officials, and to the President himself.

More than 4 months since his suspension and 2 months after Purisima’s resignation, Aquino has yet to pick a new, full-time PNP chief. (READ: Why the PNP needs a full-time chief now)

Espina is among the lead contenders for the plum post, but his scheduled retirement in July 2015 may be a hindrance.

Other contenders include Garbo, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Police Director Benjamin Magalong, Directorate for Operations chief Police Director Ricardo Marquez, and Logistics Directorate chief Police Director Juanito Vaño.

Espina, in an interview with reporters late March, admitted not having a full-time or acting PNP chief was affecting the police force administratively. Police sources and former police officials, meanwhile, said it was affecting the PNP’s morale. – Rappler.com

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